By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Though it offers a timely exploration of the dehumanizing effects of violence and the often difficult-to-bridge gulf between combat and civilian life, the war drama "Brothers" (Lionsgate/Relativity) — director Jim Sheridan’s adaptation of Susanne Bier’s 2004 Danish film "Brodre" — is left flatfooted by David Benioff’s cliche-ridden and simplistic script.
This is all the sadder since the fine cast — led by Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular siblings and including Sam Shepard as their Vietnam-vet dad — do their best to add intensity to the somber, seriously minded proceedings.
Yet, as soon as we see upstanding Marine Sam Cahill (Maguire) depart the domestic tranquility of the home he shares with devoted wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and young daughters Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare) to fetch his fraternal opposite, charming ne’er-do-well Tommy (Gyllenhaal), on the latter’s release from a prison stint, it’s a cinch that subtlety will not be this cautionary tale’s secret weapon.
An apparently fatal helicopter crash during Sam’s latest tour of duty in Afghanistan, to which he ships off a few days later, initiates a role reversal. Tommy’s previous lifestyle, since regaining his freedom, has been that of a bar-hopping bachelor. He nonetheless takes easily to his new role as Grace’s substitute companion and caregiver to the kids, and he gradually matures from family black sheep to would-be family man.
Sam, meanwhile, who survived the accident only to be taken prisoner by the Taliban, suffers a horrifying moral breakdown during his captivity that threatens to haunt him for life.
Though Tommy and Grace, sincerely believing Sam to be lost, find their feelings for each other increasingly conflicted, they generally manage to exercise physical restraint, except for a moment when their prudence is undermined by a combination of beer and marijuana.
This comes soon after one of the plot’s moral highlights when, as part of the turnaround in his outlook, Tommy approaches the victim of the robbery for which he was imprisoned to seek her forgiveness. His description of her relief at being assured that she need no longer fear him powerfully conveys the healing effect which such an encounter can accomplish.
Sam’s path to reconciliation, though more perilous and more onerous, suggests, at least in a secular context, the value of confession, communication and vulnerable openness to the emotional support of loved ones.
– – –
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains sporadic intense violence, including torture; drug use, adultery and suicide themes; a few uses of profanity and frequent rough and some crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.