Brothers (2009)

★ ★ ☆ ☆

Every now and then I see a preview that unduly prejudices me against the movie. A perfect example of this was Inglorious Basterds. I went into that movie thinking it was going to be a typical piece of extremely violent Hollywood nihilism. Basterds turned out to be one of the best films of the year. The same thing happened with Brothers. To put it bluntly, the preview was hilarious. I couldn't help but thinking it would be an awful remake of a certain recent war movie (if you've seen the preview, you know exactly which movie I'm talking about). To my surprise, the film was nowhere near as unintentionally funny, nor as simplistic as I'd imagined.

Let's start with the good. Brothers took a cliched premise, and actually made it into a thoughtful film. It did a great job of portraying the tensions endemic to second generation military families, and the hardships endured by the families of soldiers. Sam Sheppard did an admirable job portraying the war veteran father. His demon haunted past was always in the background, though he avoided the melodrama that often comes along with such roles. More surprising was Jake Gyllenhaal, who's role as the neerdowell brother was excellent. He has certainly matured as an actor in the last few years. Director Jim Sheridan did a fine job, though the highlight of the film was the work of eminent cinematographer Frederick Elmes. The cinematography in the Afghanistan scenes alone was worth the price of admission.

With all that going for it, one would think that it would be better than a two star movie. Unfortunately, there was one serious problem: Tobey Maguire. I simply could not take him seriously as a former football star, and rugged marine. Every time I look at him, I think of Terry Gilliam's description of why he cast him as the hitchhiker in Fear and Loathing: he looks like a frightened mongoose. It's no wonder that every time his pupils dilated, half the theatre erupted in laughter. Moreover, he was completely mismatched with Natalie Portman. The two had no chemistry. It felt more like she was his older sister than his wife. She is a fine actress, but was a few years too old for the role. Carey Mulligan, who played a minor role in the film, would have been a better fit. Replacing Maguire, and switching the two female roles would have greatly enhanced the quality of the film.

Overall, the film was enjoyable. There were a couple of unintended giggles, mostly during Maguire's outbursts, but everything else was done fairly well. It is a real shame that the preview gave away so many plot points. It's difficult to build suspense into a plot when the audience has already been told what happens in the first half. If you haven't yet seen the preview, skip it and just go see the movie if you get a chance. Just try not to look directly at Tobey Maguire.