It’s getting to be that time again…Oscar season…when all the awards hopefuls release so that they’re fresh in the memory of Academy voters for the March 7th ceremony. Sure, we might get some clunkers that think Best Picture means boring but we’re also treated some some of the best movies of the year around this time. If the Golden Globes are any indication, we’ve already seen two of the best films earlier this year in Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker. Hoping to join them is Brothers, a subtle but powerful drama about family, inner conflict and psychological turmoil in the face of war.
Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is preparing for what we can only assume is a second, possibly third tour of duty in Afghanistan, leaving behind his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and two young daughters. However, just before he leaves, he does his brotherly duty and picks up Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), the trouble-maker of the two, from the prison where he had just been released after a doing a bid for armed robbery. Tommy is obviously the black sheep of the Cahill family. His father, a military man himself, mostly looks at him in shame after comparing him to his upstanding brother.
Shortly after arriving in Afghanistan, we receive word that Sam has gone down in a helicopter crash and is presumably dead, shocking his young family at home. Grace in particular is just devastated but handles the situation with strength to be there for her girls. Tommy, in the meantime, has done his best to stay out of trouble and is also hit hard by Sam’s death. He also sees how difficult this has been for Grace so he helps her out around the house and plays fun uncle for the girls. As you can probably anticipate, the two grow closer as time goes on.
However, Sam, as you can see in the trailer, hasn’t died and was taken prisoner by the Taliban, tortured and forced to do unspeakable acts before he is rescued and returned home. The rest of the film delves into the mental prison of paranoia and guilt that Sam has confined himself to and how it affects his family.
Directed by Jim Sheridan, Brothers is a compelling drama about family and war, about how Sam’s disappearance affects his family. The film is very restrained and subtle. With subject matter like this, it is very easy to turn it into a sob-fest but Sheridan chooses to show emotion implicitly, setting up some amazing performances by the entire cast. Natalie Portman shows a great deal of maturity in a motherly role and Jake Gyllenhaal is authentic and honest in his role as a wayward brother and son trying to be his best for his family. However, this is Tobey Maguire’s film as he delves deep, bringing forth a darkness and fear that we have never seen from him before. I’m not talking about the sort of emotional conflict he has as Black Spider-man in Spider-man 3. This is a very real, very frightening take on a broken soldier by Maguire, something that, sadly, probably manifests itself in military men and women more often than we’d like to think.
However, the main cast is not the only people in the film that take it to another level. The Cahill daughters, in particular, are amazing and their performances mark some of the best acting I’ve ever seen by children. There are whole scenes where the action is conveyed simply by stares and facial expression and the dialogue is reduced to the background. However, although you feel like you’re watching something special, Brothers is missing a bit of that x-factor. Although it runs for 110 minutes, it seems surprisingly short with much of the real action occurring in the later third of the movie and you feel that there are scenes missing from the film.
Overall, there are flaws but this is a great movie and despite being one of the better movies about the modern war, it isn’t limited to a 21st century setting. Is this on the nomination list for Best Picture? It’s hard to say since there have been so many amazing films this year but it definitely deserves a spot on the short list. Along with The Hurt Locker, Brothers may just be one of the best movies about the human cost of warfare.
Verdict: 8.5 out of 10