Directed by: Jim Sheridan
Premise: An ex-con (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins to help out his sister-in-law (Natalie Portman) when his brother is mistakenly pronounced dead while on a military tour in Afghanistan. The soldier eventually returns, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Works: Brothers features a great performance by Natalie Portman. She gets a lot of the best material in the film and her interactions with her brother-in-law (Gyllenhaal) and her daughters (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare) have a lot of reality to them. She is vulnerable in her grief but she is also strong for her kids and Portman gives a much more natural and mature performance in Brothers than in anything she has done before.
What Doesn’t: Brothers suffers from a lack of focus. The film starts out as a prodigal son story but then it shifts gears into a romance and later ends as a disturbed veteran narrative. These pieces are incomplete and do not complement each other very well, as though the film were three or four separate movies edited together. Because of all of its separate themes, the film does not drive toward a coherent climax. The ending of Brothers is about reconciliation but compared to similarly themed films like Things We Lost in the Fire, The Best Years of Our Lives, or Coming Home there is no sense of what has been lost or recovery from that loss. The scenes of Tobey Maguire’s character as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan are not particularly well done and are unsuccessful at conveying the character’s trauma. Maguire struggles to carry the later scenes after his return and the character’s struggle with post-traumatic stress is located too much on the surface as opposed to floating just underneath.
Bottom Line: Brothers has a great performance by Natalie Portman but the film fails at all of its various agendas. It is not able to suggest anything about reconciliation or recovery and it is not a very good drama.
Episode: #269 (December 20, 2009)