Y’know, why is this film called Brothers? It involves brothers and there are some themes that play with the idea of how the brothers affect one another, but the film seems more than just that. It feels more like it wants to do a thousand things at one time, with Brothers being the convenient choice due to its source material. Of all things present, they decided that the aspect of brotherhood was the most important, despite scenes that play more into the effects of war on a human’s psyche. One could call this foreshadowing of the film’s quality. One would be right.
In 2008, American producers watched a movie called Brødre and thought, “Wow! That was great. Let’s do an American version for American people!” They then called up Spider-Man, Queen Amidala, and one half of the Brokeback Mountain couple to star in the leading roles. A year later, Brothers was born.*
*This information is not cited.
Focus can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the topic and the extraneous circumstances. In this case, focus is something of a foreign concept—perhaps Danish or something. At first, there is a clear indication that the film wants to establish a contrast of expectations between the brothers, Sam and Tommy. It follows this by showing off the lifestyles of Sam and Tommy, as polar opposite as they are. Sam goes off to war and supposedly dies, this trauma leading to the recreation and redemption of Tommy’s life. Only thing is, Sam is actually still alive and experiencing horrific things due to the hostility of warring countries. He is eventually rescued and returned home, where he begins to crack under the pressure of converting to a normal lifestyle, combined with the actions he had to do to secure his life. In-between this, a number of different things involving character and plot are also unveiled.
This may sound slightly spoiler-y, but the synopsis on various websites shares all of this and more. The meaning behind sharing so much is to instrument the focus one needs to have to pick all of this up in a single watch. Numerous characters, settings, moods, and things to develop make Brothers a somewhat tiring watch, as it tries to overanalyze itself and its characters, causing the ending to feel a little flat compared to all that followed. Its execution, however, makes it feel a tad more tiring.
One of the things I noticed while watching was just how forced some of the more tense situations are. The emphasis on Tommy being a questionably-moraled guy, his father’s constant comparisons of him to his brother, Sam’s kids being literal walking drama-spouters. A lot of scenes feel far more dramatic than they need to, precisely due to the writing trying to crank up the drama to a twelve. Characters feel like they have a single role, then become more varied, only to revert back to their original form. Even characters that develop for the better, such as Tommy, end up becoming so developed that their original issues don’t feel as if they were that much of an issue to begin with. The film makes an effort to show that Tommy was arrested, is constantly relying on Sam and his wife, and really enjoys drowning his sorrows in alcohol. An hour into the movie later, all of this disappears and is never brought to light again. He essentially loses who he was as a character and becomes “Reformed,” and that’s it.
Another victim of this is Sam’s wife, whose only role is that of Sam’s (and later Tommy’s) beacon of light. There’s a point where some attempt is made to make her more human, as interacting with Tommy brings out a bit of a wild side to her, only to have it go back to trying to maintain her family. Her faithfulness is her only defining trait, with her character blooming slightly through Tommy’s care as juxtaposition, only to go back once Sam returns. It all ends up becoming a question of “What’s the point?” A number of things develop just to be squashed by a larger plot point, specifically revolving around Sam. It’s almost funny that Sam’s children end up caring more for Tommy than him, as I enjoyed Gyllenhaal’s scenes and character more than Maguire’s.
Speaking of Sam’s children, they’re written really poorly. And can hardly act.
On the acting front, movie sites such as Rotten Tomatoes will have the audience believe that the actors in this film carry the weight of its faults. I’m not so sure about that. Tobey Maguire is an interesting specimen, as his acting is a both good and bad. Think Kristen Stewart, with all the shit she gets for her standard of acting and the constant blank stares and monotone mumbling of her voice. Maguire is essentially her male counterpart, as this film very much establishes his mastery of the awkward, dumbfounded blankness of facial expression and vocal range. He manages to show his full extent of uncontrolled rage at the end, but even that feels like overkill. Portman and Gyllenhaal are better together than apart, but still suffer somewhat from a lack of emotional effort. They act their parts according to what their character should be feeling and nothing more. Some would call this unrealistic. I call it getting the job done to go home. And the kids are borderline cringey.
Despite all the flaws, there’s passion behind this piece that makes it entertaining all throughout. While some developments wither away at the mid-point, others feel poignant and powerful. The moods are definitely good for each shot and a lot of subtle hints at what’s to come (as predictable as they may be) are enough to carry the film from scene to scene. I liked the detail to things such as finding solace in darkness, trauma being used to steer people straight, and the importance of talking out internal conflict. There are good things happening within, and while there’s a lot of lost potential, the potential lingers upon the ruins of the film’s final state.
Brothers is an unfortunate example of a film that becomes worse the more one thinks about it. Characters, plot, and overexerting the drama that comes out of it makes it a must-see for lovers of soap operas or, say, Degrassi. All others should look harder for a drama that establishes itself with proper foundations and more likable characters. Or, perhaps, look up the source material.
Final Score: 5/10
The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!