Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content, 110 minutes
Thoughtful but uneven "Brothers" gets lost in cliches
The heavy drama "Brothers" is well-directed and sublimely acted by the guy who played Spider-Man. It's too bad that the story, based on a Danish film with roots in Homer's "Odyssey" is overly familiar and cliched. The actors are plausible, even when the story falters, especially near its downbeat ending.
Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and his younger brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) are polar opposites. Sam is a dutiful marine about to go back to Afghanistan on his fourth tour of duty. He has a lovely young wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and two precious young daughters that love. Tommy is getting out of jail for bank robbery, and things are a little tense between him and his parents (Sam Shepherd and Mare Winningham). When Sam's helicopter crashes and he and a buddy are taken as a prisoner of war, he's assumed for dead by Grace and the rest of the family. Tommy comes around to console Grace and they end up falling for each other and sleeping together. However, things drastically and unexpectedly change when Sam is found and brought home to circumstances he'd hoped would never happen.
"Brothers" is a well-acted but unrevealing, uneven drama that plays out too melodramatically, which is unfortunate given that the director is Jim Sheridan ("In America," "In the Name of the Father") and the strong performances from its young cast, especially Maguire. It's told with parallel stories, showing Sam's capture and return, and Grace and Tommy falling in love. You have a tragic sense of what's going to unfold when Sam returns, and the film takes its time when it could've been accomplished much sooner.
Maguire is excellent as the young, stout Marine whose life is shattered upon learning his wife has been sleeping with his troubled young brother, in a subtle turn from Gyllenhaal in the film's trickiest role. Gyllenhaal is good but seems too well-scrubbed to playing a misfit; Portman gives a strong turn as the wife, though most of the melodramatics come from her end. The war scenes are far more captivating and engaging than the banal scenes at home.
"Brothers" is good but not great, and doesn't establish enough sympathy for any of the characters involved, and you may not care much what happens. There's not enough emotional payoff given the circmumstances, which would've helped the overly familiar, somewhat predictable script. The story of "Brothers" has been told and seen before many times, most of them better than this.