Brothers is the latest in a line of recent war movies that attempt to look into the psyche of soldiers as well as the effect that their absence, experiences and changed personas have on their families. However, the difference here is that this is just one facet of an incredibly complex film that deals with a multitude of themes.
Sam (Tobey Maguire) and his younger brother Tommy played by the star of gay cowboy film Brokeback Mountain, Jake Gyllenhaal couldn’t be more dissimilar. The elder is a Marine who is off for a fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, whilst Tommy has just come out of jail where he was serving time for armed robbery. Their lives, morals and attitudes are at complete odds with one another but they both find redemption and hope in Sam’s wife, Grace (Natalie Portman). Sam needs the reassurance of stability and the memories of his family to remain strong when the Taliban captures him. Tommy helps Grace with household maintenance whilst Sam is absent – his way of making amends for his past behaviour. With Sam missing, presumed dead, the two cling to each emotionally in order to cope with the situation. A passionate kiss finally releases some of the tension that has been building up between them but it’s difficult to ascertain whether Grace is falling for Tommy or whether she craves human contact and reassurance on the assumption that her husband is dead.
This is a highly charged and emotionally draining film that challenges so many of our perceptions of the human condition. The dynamics of the various different relationships offer so much in the way of cinematic fulfilment that it’s easy to dismiss the harrowing back-story as simply a means to an end. However, it is the chilling events that take place during Sam’s captivity that really mould the latter part of the film and determine how all three characters will act and relate to each other on his eventual return.
There is guilt and resentment on all sides and it’s hard to imagine a return to anything resembling a normal life for any of the characters. Grace’s daughters show the effect that all issues relating to war can have on children and how quickly children can pick up on a situation and react to it. Sam is faced with the apparently irrefutable fact that his brother and his wife have been sleeping together, his brother muscling in on his family while he struggled for survival and sanity in captivity. The film is actually based on an earlier Danish film but the quality acting and directing will ensure that it is a credible release in its own right.