Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Clifton Collins Jr., Bailee Madison, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Taylor Geare, Patrick Flueger, Carey Mulligan, Omid Abtahi, Navid Negahban, Ethan Suplee, Arron Shiver, Ray Prewitt, Jenny Wade
Written by: David Benioff, based on a screenplay by Susanne Bier, Anders Thomas Jensen
Directed by: Jim Sheridan
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing violent content
Running Time: 110
Date: 12/03/2009

Brothers (2009)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Opposites Retract

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just in time for awards season, here's another film about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and how awful it all is. Of course, it's possible to make a good film about this subject -- just check out last month's The Messenger -- but director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) takes a routine story and presents it with clenching seriousness, making it not only boring, but unpleasant.

Tobey Maguire stars as Sam, a captain in the Marines who is just about to go back for another tour in Afghanistan, leaving behind his two daughters and his beautiful wife Grace (Natalie Portman). Coincidentally, his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. I had it all figured out less than 5 minutes in; Sam gets lost in action and is presumed dead, while Tommy and Grace slowly fall in love at home.

Of course, Sheridan doesn't shy away from showing the typical "war is hell" footage of heroism and cruelty in the Middle East, even if his heart is clearly back in the States. It's all very calculated for maximum awards potential, but the drawback is that if no awards come, then no one is going to want to punish themselves by sitting through this.

The performances are fine, including Sam Shepard as the boys' alcoholic dad, and Sheridan does get one or two excellent moments in -- such as an awkward birthday dinner for one of the girls -- but the film needed something more, some breathing room.

It's a remake of Susanne Bier's 2004 film from Denmark.

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