Review: Brothers

Brothers: Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal

When this movie first came out, all trailers and advertisements misled audiences into believing that it was some sort of a love-triangle type story a la “Legends of the Fall” – you know, two brothers who both fall for the same woman and the drama that ensues.

In reality, Brothers it is more of an anti-war psychological drama exploring the profound effects of war on soldiers and ultimately their families. The acting is superb – especially Toby Maguire – and this movie is anything but a sappy love story about two brothers who fall for the same woman. That would have been trite and in and of itself is more of a side-line in this story. Jake Gyllenhaal kisses Portman once, when she is high, mourning and believing her husband to be dead. They dont have an affair, they dont fall in love and there really is not much of a relationship between them there.

But, there is also not much of a relationship between the two brothers – played by Gyllenhaal and Maguire – either. They don’t act like brothers and friends who have each others’ back; the brotherhood which – as the title of the film suggests – is supposed to be so essential to them and their relationship is not really established. They act more like buddies who haven’t seen in each other in a while and exchange awkward and polite glances and gestures every now and then. This is one of the issues I had with this move: here we are to believe that these two have a special bond that gets them through the worst of times, but it doesn’t naturally follow from the story and the actions of the characters. It feels forced. In other words, if it hadn’t said in th script that Gyllenhaal and Maguire are to be brothers, you wouldn’t know from their actions that they in fact are.

Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire

Gyllenhaal is the outlaw and black sheep of the family who has gotten himself into trouble more times than he can remember – and is accordingly also not very welcome at home – while Maguire plays the beloved son who makes his father proud by having enlisted to bravely fight for his country. Maguire, before he deploys and also later, never has any kind of meaningful conversation with his brother about anything. When he welcomes Gyllenhaal back from prison, he is neither happy nor in any way emotionally touched to see him. As a matter of fact he draws a blank and gives him an awkward look. He never says he loves him no matter what he did and there is no “buddy moment” between the two.

The casualties of war

Natalie Portman plays the devoted, sweeter-than-sugar wife of Tobey Maguire’s. She is so perfect and perky, and just beautiful and toned, that you want to poke her with a needle to see if she is real. Don’t get me wrong, Portman is a great actress but I think she was seriously miscast for this part. As a mother of two and housewife in a small town she is just not believable. She was totally out of place – both looks wise as well as personality wise. Portman is just too young (or looks too young) to be able to pull off the mommy part. She could have easily played Maguire’s teenage sister and would have actually been more believable. Her character also doesn’t play the part of the mourning wife who has received devastating news very convincingly. I mean here is this woman who has been told that her husband and the love of her life, is dead, and you never see her crash, you never see her fall apart, you never see her unkempt or out of it or unpretty – she is always together, always pretty. Yes she does cry once when she gets his clothes for someone else, but 5 minutes later, she snaps out of it and is fine again.

Losing it

The best and most convincing part of the movie is Maguire’s emotional melt-down after the horrors he witnessed in the war. That aspect of the story is really what’s at the heart of this movie and the most convincing, heartbreaking but also powerful. I loved the depth with which the adverse psychological effects of war were explored and exposed. It was like a slap to the face of all those who somehow glorify and romanticize the notion of going to war and fighting for your country (such as Maguire’s father). It dispels the myths that surround war and conquering, with brutal honesty.

Many anti-war movies these days focus on the politics of war and the geopolitical implications of US presence in this fraudulent war in the middle east, but this movie goes right down to the heart of the matter, to the cellular level if you so will, one by one, layer by layer, peeling off and exposing the horrors and dysfunctions that are created when we send young people who have enthusiasm and ideals to fight a war for dubious and questionable political and economic ambitions; a war that crushes their spirit and mind – leaving them emotional, physical and spiritual wrecks for the rest of their lives. While movies like “Platoon” have already given us a glimpse into the not so romantic side of war, this movie really takes it to a human level, which many people can identify with.

The writers have put their main focus on this aspect and the whole storyline about one brother possibly falling for his brother’s wife, seems more like a distraction or sideline (or PR to sell the movie). I think the writers should have either just dropped that storyline altogether or really fleshed it out and explored it – which would have taken this movie down an entirely different path.

Altogether I would say a powerful anti-war movie with substance and fantastic acting.

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