If ever a remake seemed to be primed to work, its this one. With director Jim Sheridan (In The Name Of The Father, In America) behind the camera, a script by David Benioff (The Kite Runner), a cast including Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, as well as a story ripe for drama, what could go wrong with this American version of the 2004 Danish movie Brodre? Well, it feels as if they got the ingredients right, but then werent quite sure how to cook it.
Gyllenhaal and Maguire play Sam and Tommy, two very different brothers. Sam is a family man whos in the military and about to be deployed in Afghanistan, while Tommy is the black sheep of the family, whos recently out of prison, spends most of his time drunk and is a bit of an embarrassment to everyone, including Sams wife Grace (Portman), who doesnt like him.
However after Sam goes to war, word comes back that hes been killed in combat, and through their grief, Grace and Tommy find they have more in common than they expected, especially as it seems the loss of his brother has given Tommy a purpose to be there for his siblings family. However while Tommy and Graces feelings grow deeper, in Afghanistan Tommy isnt actually dead, and must go to extreme lengths to survive being held by the Taliban. When he returns home, being back with his family is incredibly difficult for Sam, and in many ways his suspicions about his brother and his wife are the least of the problems.
The three leads give it their all, and while Maguire sometimes feels out of his depth as the traumatised, drowning Sam, Gyllenhaal is superb, while Portman is also very effective in an understated, controlled performance that in others hands could have had Grace constantly gripped by OTT histrionics. However Maguire not quite succeeding in a part that is essentially the emotional crux of the film is a bit of a big problem.
The structure of the movie means that the first half is largely about Tommy and Grace, and this works extremely well as they slowly grow together through their grief at the (supposed) death of Sam. The second half concentrates on the return of the traumatised soldier, and despite a couple of extremely tense scenes, this section, which should of course be the emotionally taut heart of the movie, is less interesting than whats gone before, largely due to Maguire never quite being convincing. As a result his characters plight works better intellectually than emotionally.
Despite being based on Suzanne Biers excellent 2004 Danish film, Brodre, Brothers slightly has the feel of a stage play, and one that concentrates too much on the minutiae and individual scenes, with no one paying attention to the big picture. There are quite a few wonderful moments where the movie seems to be drilling deep into its characters and creating interesting dynamics, but the bits in between are somewhat unfocussed so theres little follow-through.
Nevertheless theres a lot of good work on display from the actors (and theres little doubt Maguire is putting in 100%, even if it doesnt quite work) and director Sheridan, and there are a few scenes that are undeniably excellent. Its just a shame it doesnt work in its entirety.
As for the Blu-ray, while there are no complaints, as it has very good picture quality and audio, the only real question is whether HD really adds anything to the experience. The film has a rather muted colour palette, and with its concentration on character melodrama, it isnt exactly either a visual or audio feast. So while the picture and sound on the Blu-ray is definitely superior to the DVD, HD adds less to the viewing experience than it does with many films.
There arent many special features either. Jim Sheridan offers a decent audio commentary, and hes also the subject of the featurette, Jim Sheridan: Film And Family. In both these he comes across as an amiable chap, although even as he and the rest of the cast and crew discuss the film, you can sense why it is a movie of moments rather than having a defining vision, because thats pretty much how he approached it. The other featurette looks at how Brodre inspired Brothers and its journey from being a 2004 Danish film to a Hollywood awards-bait flick.
Overall Verdict: Despite 100% effort from all involved, pacing and an underwhelming Maguire result in a selection of excellent scenes that never coalesce into a truly satisfying film. Not bad though.
Audio Commentary With Jim Sheridan
Remade In The USA: How Brodre Became Brothers Featurette
Jim Sheridan: Film And Family Featurette
Reviewer: Tim Isaac