All that you can’t leave behind

Brothers tackles the States side of war, and the struggle to go home again

  • “Hey bro, how was war?” “Horrible, man. How was sleeping with my wife?” Toby Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brothers.

Films centering around the war on terror aren’t exactly a new thing in Hollywood, and it’s fair to say that the horse is nearly dead by now.

However, Brothers director Jim Sheridan bravely takes on this well-worn subject matter and comes out with an incredibly powerful film.

Sheridan’s remake of the 2004 Danish film of the same name follows Sam (Toby Maguire), a marine corporal who leaves home for his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, and his relationship with his estranged brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), a recently released ex-convict.

After Sam’s helicopter is shot down and he is presumed dead, his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) finds herself falling for Tommy, as he steps in to fill Sam’s role as her children’s father.

When Sam suddenly returns – now just a ghost of the man she married, having been mentally scarred after enduring captivity at the hands of his enemies – she is torn between him and Tommy.

The entire cast is near pitch-perfect and Sheridan’s hard work of bringing out each member’s best performances has clearly paid off.

Maguire may not seem entirely believable as a hardened marine at first, with his high-pitched voice and his subdued manner, but it only takes a short while for Sam’s war-worn, crippled soldier to come to life. Maguire’s performance cuts deep.

In one agonizing scene, Sam’s daughter, having a birthday party, begins to rub a balloon, creating an annoying sound. The noise causes Sam to relive parts of his horrifying experience, specifically gunfire in Afghanistan, and he snaps under the psychological pressure.

This incident is a stirring reminder of the destructive effects of war, as Sam can no longer relate to his own family and reacts by going ballistic.

These actors carry much of the film. Combined with the beautiful cinematography and crisp sound, there are many tense moments. Audience members will be on the edge of their seats as they await the next shocking moment.

Brothers is an intensely moving film, showing the horrific psychological and relational abuse war inflicts; even though you may physically leave it behind, perhaps the most difficult battle is the one when you get home. 

Published in Volume 64, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 3, 2009)

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