The casualties of war can often extend far beyond the battlefields and mortality numbers. Director Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot”) brings the Afghanistan war home in his new film, “Brothers.” Politics aside, this is a story about the open wounds, which have buried themselves deep inside of military combatants.
Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is about to be re-deployed to Afghanistan for his fourth tour of duty. His loving wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and two daughters absolutely adore him. His brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), is the antithesis of his older brother. He’s a lush and an ex-con. Their dad, Hank (Sam Shepard), ex-military himself, idolizes Sam and finds Tommy despicable. When Sam’s helicopter is shot down, he’s presumed dead.
In actuality, Sam’s been taken prisoner by the Taliban, along with another Marine. Tortured and forced to commit an atrocious act, Sam becomes a ticking time bomb upon his return home. In the meantime, Tommy has cleaned up his act and has been functioning somewhat as the male presence in Sam’s family during his absence. Sam’s suspicions about the relationship between Grace and Tommy spin out of control, and in his manic state, the lives of his loved ones are forever altered.
“Brothers” is a taut psychological drama that delves into the effects of war on its victims. It’s about how war makes monsters out of honorable human beings. But “Brothers” is also the powerful tale of families coming together to forgive and help heal the tortured souls of those who bravely serve our country.
Each member of this gifted cast does some of the best work of his or her career. Maguire (aka “Spiderman”) gives a surprisingly chilling performance as the guilt-ridden golden boy sinking into self destruction.
Portman (who first wowed me in “The Professional” back in 1994) has matured into an actress of great depth, so evident in her role as the grieving widow/forgiving wife. Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”) is flawless as the bad son/good son evolving on a journey to redemption. And it’s always great to see Shepard playing the gruff, hard-drinking, narrow-minded patriarch so effortlessly.
When one of the vicious Taliban captors tells Sam, “This is our country ... you should not be here,” I thought about the poignant and ironic timing of this thought-provoking film’s release. I thought about painful decisions that tear families apart. “Brothers” made me think about war — and why.
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