Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Brothers (***)

Brothers. 110 mins. R. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Written by David Benioff. Starring Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Sam Shepard.

This remake of a 2004 Danish film of the same name is not quite the movie I thought (or hoped) it would be. I went into Brothers expecting a juicy relationship drama with high stakes that ends tragically a la House of Sand and Fog. The previews certainly sold that concept, focusing less on the Iraq War that is central to the movie's plot, and more on the sparks that fly between Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal while Portman's hubby (Tobey Maguire) is away and presumed dead. What we get instead is yet another in a long line of war movies where the main character is so tragically haunted by what he's seen and experienced overseas that he can't ease back into life as he once knew it. Here, Maguire plays that man, and though he's gotten the lion's share of acclaim from critics so far, I actually wasn't too taken by Maguire's performance. He barely registers in the movie's early scenes at home, and he's not entirely convincing as a POW survivor, despite some late inning histrionics and lots of bug-eyed acting. Much more effective is Natalie Portman, in a restrained yet highly emotional role, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who really seems to have shed the soft-talking, shy guy sheen he once imbued in all of his characters. I give credit to the casting director(s) for putting Maguire and Gyllenhaal together on screen as brothers. Not too long ago, they were widely regarded as the same type of performer, so much so that at one point during Spider-Man 2, Gyllenhaal almost replaced Maguire - proof positive of their interchangeability. A lot has changed since then though. While Maguire hasn't really grown much as an actor, Gyllenhaal certainly has, and he gives a very believable and mature performance in Brothers. When he and Portman are on screen, the movie clicks despite its overfamiliar subject matter and lack of sexual drama.

- John


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