Just as the film, “Brothers,” opened, President Barack Obama decided to escalate the 8-year-old Afghanistan War. Based on the 2004 Danish movie, “Brodre,” “Brothers” does not inspire support for the continuation of this conflict.
A Cain and Abel-“East of Eden” story, the remake has Sam Cahill (Toby Maguire) as the “good” brother to Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), the “bad” one, particularly, in the eyes of father Hank (Sam Shepard). Hank is an ex-Marine, who served faithfully in Vietnam, and beams over Sam, a Marine Captain, married with two little girls and about to do another tour of duty in Afghanistan. To Hank, Tommy is an embarrassment, his big achievement is getting released from a prison stint for bank robbery.
While a bit sensitive for a gung-ho Marine, Sam is a doting dad for adorable Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare), who hang on his every hug. Wife/mom Grace (Natalie Portman) is movie-star beautiful and also seemingly smitten by Sam. Ne’er-do-well Tommy spends most of his time dodging the wrath of his disappointed father.
This all changes when Sam goes back into battle and, before long, is reported dead. Tommy takes over as father of the girls and soon finds himself glowing before the pretty face of Grace. Romance is only a kiss away. That kiss comes after they share a joint and some emotional memories on a cozy winter’s night alone in the living room.
Before consummation takes place, word comes that Sam is alive, though far from well mentally. Earlier intercut graphic scenes in Afghanistan show that he and Private Joe Willis (Patrick Klueger) are captured, thrown in a hole, and tortured by sad - ist Taliban fighters. Sam is finally forced to make a choice that haunts him for the rest of his life.
When he returns home, he’s a ghost. His children sense this and are scared of him. They now prefer Tommy to their father, and the same can be said for Grace. The result is a full-blown breakdown by the soldier, who should be recognized as a war hero. It’s reminiscent of Bruce Dern’s character in “Coming Home” or Christopher Walken’s in “The Deerhunter.”
But those movies are about the Vietnam War. “Brothers” is about the current one in Afghanistan. There is a difference, right? President Obama is banking on it.
Directed by Jim Sheridan from a David Benioff screenplay, “Brothers” is a well-acted, stirring and disturbing film.