“Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” – Sam Cahill
There have been an endless amount of war-inspired films over the past decade, but not many can say they depict the emotion and intensity of post-war struggles like Brothers achieves. Sheridan’s film tells the story of Captain Sam Cahill (Maguire) , who once presumed dead from his tour in Afghanistan, returns home suspecting his brother (Gyllenhaal) has become far too comfortable with his wife, portrayed by the excellent Natalie Portman. That’s not to say this type of story hasn’t been attempted before, especially seeing as it’s based on the Danish motion picture Brødre, but the likes of Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman provide sublime performances and really help to establish the roots of emotion within its disheartening narrative.
For a movie so appropriately named Brothers, it is absolutely vital for the film to clearly show a clear relationship between the two characters, and Sheridan does an excellent job in creating a pair that really feel like they have good chemistry. It’s clear to see that Gyllenhaal’s and Maguire’s characters care for one another, despite the different paths that they have taken in their lives. Maguire’s Captain Sam Cahill is a respected United States marine, a man that is appreciated by many. Gyllenhaal’s Tommy Cahill is a complete contrast, he’s a convicted felon and a devoted drunk, who is seen as a disgrace to the Cahill family name; but despite these differences, Sheridan shows how the brothers truly do love each other. However, as the film dramatically progresses, the pair undergo a drastic transition; with each brother slowly becoming the other. This sense of character development is intriguing to witness, with Sam slowly declining to a madness fuelled by jealousy and paranoia, and with Tommy slowly inclining into the shoes that his brother once wore.
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of a wife struggling to keep her family united from her husband’s inability to cope and Tommy’s eagerness to redeem himself was both upsetting and staggering to watch, which can only be seen as a compliment to her performance in this role. Her heart-wrenching scene with Gyllenhaal when she informs him of her husband’s supposed death was a clear indication of her ability as an actress, with her character breaking down to the devastating news.
The finale scene was without a doubt the pinnacle of the film’s emotional narrative. The progression of Sam’s downward-spiral into mental instability comes to a violent and dramatic climax, and Tobey’s magnificent portrayal of this shocking scene remains one of the most underrated pieces of acting I’ve witnessed. He wholly captures the intensity of the situation from his ability to bring to life a completely damaged character reaching his tipping point, a behaviour that has progressively been building since his return from his disappearance. We can’t help but sympathise for Sam and Grace in that heartbreaking moment, with Grace coming to the harsh realisation that her family is unravelling before her eyes.
I do have an issue, however, with the dialogue at times. At certain moments it seems a little forced, as if Sheridan was trying to cram in a lot of backstory within a rather short 105-minute movie. I also feel that Sam’s initial disappearance could have been handled a little better, too. It seemed shoe-horned in and almost out of nowhere, which was a little jarring to watch. I feel it happened way too early on, and would have preferred to see an extra 15-20 minutes focusing on his close relationship to his family. Not only would this have been beneficial to the timing of the narrative, it would also add even more emotional and intensity around his disappearance; and in turn, his reunion with his family. For such a moving film, his well-anticipated reunion with his family seemed nothing short of anti-climatic, which was a shame seeing as the majority of the film was executed very well.
Brothers, as a whole, does an excellent job in presenting the magnitude of pre-war fears and post-war struggles. The movie has become one of the best accidental finds, and is undoubtedly a truly underrated addition to the war genre.
OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10, a gem to remember.