BROTHERS, Jim Sheridan’s remake of the 2004 Swedish film, pits Sam (Tobey Maguire), the overachieving war hero against his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), a shiftless ex-con. Driven to these extremes by their angry, alcoholic father (Sam Shepard), the two appear to have never really gotten along, and now with Sam’s wife Grace (Natalie Portman) thrown into the mix, they have something else to fight over.
After Sam goes off to war and is reportedly killed in action, Tommy steps in and tries his best to play father to Grace’s two daughters. For a while, thing are going pretty well. Tommy’s newfound responsibilities help him get his act together and a new family structure begins to take shape. It’s hard to remember in these scenes that Grace is supposed to be mourning. True, she does cry a lot and walk around in sweatpants all day long, but she never really seems that sad. This probably has something to do with the fact that she has absolutely zero chemistry with Sam, who’s awkward and gangly and, with his military haircut, looks less like her husband and more like her pubescent younger brother. In fact, you feel so little for him that his death doesn’t exactly up the stakes. Of course, Sam really isn’t dead; He’s been captured and is undergoing extreme forms of torture. But when he’s eventually rescued and returns home to his family, he and Grace don’t have so much as a chat about his experience. Instead, he stalks around the house, looking more and more like DeNiro in TAXI DRIVER. He barely speaks to his children, stays at the Veteran’s cemetery all night and repeatedly accuses Grace and Tommy of sleeping with each other. He finally snaps, going on a rampage that ends with a gun pointed to his head. He’s later hospitalized and the film ends with the family trying to pick up the pieces, but the only person you can care about is Tommy, who seems to be the only fully realized human being in the bunch. Gyllenhaal’s performance is certainly the best in the film, but as David Denby points out in his review, BROTHERS is a victim of “Hollywood miscasting” and the result feels more like a movie of the week than a heart-wrenching tale of the bonds of family.