Confession time: I hated Tobey Maguire’s performance in Brothers. That doesn’t mean that I believe the story that’s currently circulating about his BFF Leonardo DiCaprio greasing the wheels with some Blu-Ray players to score Maguire a Golden Globe nomination, but I disliked it enough that it somewhat overshadowed the rest of a decent movie for me.
In Brothers, Maguire plays Sam Cahill, a Captain in the U.S. Marines who is sent on a second deployment to Afghanistan in October of 2007. He leaves behind his wife Grace, played by Natalie Portman, daughters Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare), and his good-for-nothing black sheep brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Early in his mission, Sam is captured along with another soldier by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Word returns to Grace that her husband has been killed in action in Afghanistan, and she and her daughters must confront life without him. There to lend a hand (and rebuild a kitchen) is her brother-in-law Tommy, who has recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for armed robbery.
As they heal, Grace and Tommy grow closer, bound together in their grief over Sam and their love for Isabelle and Maggie. There is an important scene in the first third of the movie where Grace and Tommy overcome their misconceptions about one other as they listen to “Bad” by U2 and reminisce about old times. They share a moment, but Grace retreats to mourning her husband and emotionally distances herself from Tommy.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, it is revealed that Sam is still alive, but he has endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of his captors. His c0-detainee has not been so fortune and when Sam is recovered from Afghanistan, his guilt and trauma threaten to overtake him and his family.
Director Jim Sheridan has worked with this palate before and his direction is adept and sympathetic. Adapted from the Danish film Brødre, this is a timely and important subject as the men and women fighting overseas return hope and try to assimilate themselves back into the lives they left behind.
The cast is mostly impressive, particularly the often under-appreciated Gyllenhaal, the young actresses playing the Cahill daughters, and Sam Shepherd, playing Sam and Tommy’s father, Hank. Rounding out the cast is Mare Winningham as the brothers’ step-mother, Elsie. Carey Mulligan makes a cameo appearance as Cassie Willis, the widow of the soldier (Patrick Flueger) whose death haunts Sam.
Maguire, on the other hand, fails to impress. His performance as Sam is too melodramatic, frantic and over the top to convey the depth of his pain.
In the end, Brothers frustrates with its inability to communicate the complexity and depth of its connections.