365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Brothers (2009)

Brothers, the Tobey Maguire/Jake Gyllenhaal/Natalie Portman collaboration, had the opportunity to be the very best movie of 2009. The trailer, showing a mentally unstable Maguire as a decorated soldier returning home from Afghanistan after being purported dead, shows us one thing is for sure...this isn't the Tobey Magurie we are used to seeing in Spider-Man, Seabiscuit, or The Cider House Rules. From the three minute movie trailer alone, I knew I was going to see this movie the day it came out because I was gripped by Maguire's turn from loving husband and nurturing father to menacing psychopath. 

After watching Brothers (in the theater on opening night), I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth. I liked the movie a lot. I thought Maguire knocked it out of the park. There was buzz that he was going to receive a Best Actor in a Lead Role Academy Award nomination. While he didn't get a nomination here, he did earn a Golden Globe nomination. My biggest beef with Brothers, and really the only thing that kept it from being my #1 rated movie of 2009, was that it wasn't long enough. At 1 hour, 50 minutes most people would say that is just over the ideal length of a movie. And I couldn't agree more. I'm a believer that if you can't tell a good story on film in two hours, can you really tell a good story at all? It's when you get past that 2 hour mark that people start looking at their watches, waiting, often praying for the movie to conclude. I've done this endless times including two Academy Award Nominated films that I was not a fan of and grew to really, really dislike because of their length (1993's Schindler's List - 3 hours, 20 minutes) and (2004's The Aviator - 2 hours, 50 minutes). I know I'm in the minority when I tell people how much I dislike these two movies, but I just didn't have the patience to sit through, let alone enjoy a slow movie to begin with that just seemed to crawl to the finish line. However, with Brothers, I felt like the movie needed another 30-45 minutes for all of its potential impact to truly be felt by its viewers. There wasn't any one single spot where I wanted the extra time inserted. I think the old 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there would have done the trick.

James Sheridan's (My Left Foot, In The Name of The Father) drama doesn't focus as much on the relationship between brothers Sam (Maguire) and Tommy (Gyllenhaal - Brokeback Mountain, Love and Other Drugs) as it does between the two brothers and the relationships each of them have with the same individuals in their lives. Sheridan did such a great job of building each character and illustrating almost to perfection the intricacies in the various relationships. Never once did I look at my watch or wonder how far I was into the movie. Almost to the contrary, I could sense the movie steamrolling towards its climax much more quickly than I wanted it to. And when all was said and done and the movie ended, I could only ask myself What if? What if Sheridan had let the movie unfold in the second half as naturally has he had let the first half build up the characters and their relationships? What if Sheridan didn't force Maguire's character change on us so quickly. What if Sheridan allowed us to form our own impression of Maguire once he returned from Afghanistan rather than presenting his character change in the way that he felt everybody should have seen it. What if we could have really have seen the changing relationships between Sam and his wife Grace (Natalie Portman - Black Swan, Garden State), Sam and his daughters, Tommy and his father Hank (Sam Shepard - The Right Stuff, Black Hawk Down). I have dozens of What if questions regarding the second half of the movie. Rarely do I wish for a movie to be longer because I feel often like those extra minutes are nothing but fodder. However, this was one of those times in which I wish the movie had been 2 hours 20 minutes rather than 1 hour 50 minutes. In fact, upon my second ever viewing of the film (some 2 and 1/2 years after seeing it for the first time), I was disappointed to see in the bonus features of the DVD that there were no deleted scenes.

The plot of the move revolves Sam as a captain in Afghanistan whose helicopter is shot down. It is assumed there were no survivors and Sam's family is informed that Sam has died. In reality though, Sam had been captured and is a prisoner of war. Tommy steps in when Grace and her girls need him the most. We go back and forth between scenes of Sam suffering as a POW in the Afghanistan desert and scenes of Tommy, Grace, and the two elementary school aged girls trying to go forward with their lives one day at a time. When Sam is rescued and returns home, he is a completely different person. Tommy, Grace, his daughters, his parents are different as well and the adjustment period is what drives home the movie's intended purpose.

Before really diving in my biggest beef with Brothers, I want to first talk about a smaller beef that does influence the movie. We want the movie to influence us in as profound a way, but in order for us allow that, we need to learn more about Tommy's history. In the films early moments, we know that Sam will be leaving soon to return to Afghanistan were he feels as much as home with the men under his command than he does at home with his family. But before he does that he goes to pick up Tommy at the state penitentiary. We are supposed to see Tommy as some sort of bad-ass so that we are able to see Sam even more as the good son. The problem is Tommy seems like a good guy. We really don't even know why he was sentenced to prison until much later in the movie and even then, we still don't understand why. Based on Tommy's family life and the fact that he really didn't have a major substance abuse issue, his crime didn't fit what this crime's motives would normally be. In any case, we're made to believe that Sam has everything going for him (family man, beautiful wife and home, nice house, decorated war hero) while the first impression we have of Tommy after arriving home is going to a cash checking store to get some money to hit the local bar. Sheridan wants to present Tommy as a bad boy in order to show Sam as even more of a good guy. But the audience just wasn't going to buy that because there was no reason for us to believe it. Plus it's Gyllenhaal and he's got that million dollar smile that makes him a likable fellow in all the movies he is in. His character was improperly introduced. Why does Tommy need to be "presented" in such a negative way in order for Sam to look even more like a hero.

Sheridan also did something very risky when he put together the movie's trailer. He basically showed the climax of the movie. There is literally five minutes of the movie left after he shows the scene of Sam bashing his newly redesigned kitchen while screaming at Grace "Do you know what I did to get back to you?" The intent of the preview is to present Maguire in a completely different light than in any other movie he has ever starred in. It accomplished its goal. As I mentioned above, I knew I had to see the movie in the theater based upon the preview alone.

There is no denying the fact that Brothers had potential to be not only my favorite movie of 2009, but also in my top 25 of all-time. I just don't understand why Sheridan sprinted to the finish line. As mentioned above, I wanted to see more of the physical, emotional, and mental toll that being held captive for so long had on Sam. I wanted to feel more of what he was feeling while he was being held captive, but more importantly I wanted to see how it affected him once he got back. Sheridan didn't neglect this in any way and I believe his top purpose was showing this exact sentiment. However, we needed much more time and many more scenes to understand his PTSD. This, more than anything else was the driving force of the movie. I wanted to see Sam slowly become more and more distraught rather than seeing him just snap. I wanted to see his relationships with his family deteriorate. I think that Sheridan understood this being the director, but wasn't able to put himself in the shoes of the everyday moviegoer.

In my opinion, Maguire gave the best performance of his career to date, if for no other reason than this character was so different from every other character he ever played. Gyllenhaal was very good as the loving uncle who stepped up when he needed to. The problem with his character had nothing to do with his acting, but rather how his character was developed. Portman, who is always good, was excellent as a grieving widow trying to go forward with her life. I do wish we could have seen her in sorrow for a longer period of time, but again, a lot of that had to do with not having enough time to tell the entire story.

I recommend this movie to those who like family dramas and those enjoy watching dynamic relationships play out on film.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 7.5/10 (so much potential for this to be a 10)
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 10/10
Screenplay 8/10 (I'm going to assume, more likely just want, that there was more material that was cut due to wanting to keep the run time shorter)
Directing  7.5/10
Cinematography 9/10 (great contrast between shots of the desert in Afghanistan and the comfortable lifestyle in suburban USA)
Sound 8/10
Hook and Reel 9/10 (I was thoroughly engrossed throughout)
Universal Relevance 9/10 (unfortunately this is true...maybe not to this extent, but I think we can all relate in some sort of way)

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