"I don't know who said, 'only the dead have seen the end of war.'
I have seen the end of war.
The question is, can I live again?"
-Captain Sam Cahill-
Brothers (2009) is one of those off-the-radar, understated, psychologically complex war pictures concerning the human toll resulting from military action.
Director Jim Sheridan (In The Name Of The Father, The Field, My Left Foot) brings the focus home on the intimate complications of the family and the effect of war on the nuclear unit.
Sheridan subverts expectations and assigns roles against type by placing actors Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal in their respective parts as two brothers. The two actors work against type, work against expectations and Brothers' inversion works by refusing to conform to convention.
The viewer is never comfortable in the film and the film as unpredictable as human behavior itself of which Brothers examines.
Sheridan, along with a script by David Benioff (Game Of Thrones), reworking an original Danish film called Brodre (2004) for English, forces us to question how any one of us might personally respond or think we would respond when faced with some of the darkest trauma and unimaginably horrific events.
War. What is it good for? Outside of the realities of the geo-political and the truth of those who would seek our destruction, the sentiment here is clearly, not much. The villain here is war and its aftermath and effects on the family. We are moved to empathize with the pain and suffering of our soldiers and their families.
Maguire's Captain Sam Cahill goes to war and returns an altered man. The war experience is understandably transformative. Civilized man is logically affected and communities are impacted. The individual is profoundly changed. Captain Cahill declares to his brother, "I'm drowning, Tommy." And his pain is palpable.
Brothers is never intentionally sentimental or manipulative in this fashion, but it is raw in its emotion and there is great power in capturing that pain which translates to a genuinely moving experience.
The film's denouement culminates in the open-ended realities of living and suffering following war. No one is free of its imprint. It impacts man, family and ultimately community. The two brothers are the storm in the film whereby Portman's character is the maternal face of calm and ultimately love at the center of its storm.
Sheridan paints the picture intimately of one man and one family's struggle with outcomes and resolutions unique to this film. Yet the spiraling effects of war and its impact are varied and many and different for those assigned overseas and their loved ones. Here that pain is reared as ugly and disturbed. The psychological impact of war is indeed varied.
Brothers is just one possibility of coming home and one that examines the potential impact of love when someone affected needs it the most.
Sheridan may not enjoy quite the acclaim of his earlier films (though Brothers received several nominations), but Brothers is indeed a rich, subtle, complex, psychological and beautifully studied work with a flawless set of performances.
The film offers a glimpse and window into post-war realities as lensed by Sheridan. It's not an easy film to digest, but a rewarding one. War is hell and equally so returning to the tranquility and safe confines of home.
If you ever had an insensitivity or detachment to veterans, this film is one small but profound and poignant story that affects so many of our heroes. Brothers is concerned with the American soldier's family and may give even the cynics pause. It offers some insight into that world--- a connection to those who come home beyond the action of events far from America. This is the human cost. Like The Messenger (2009), this is a troubling psychological examination of the post-war veteran.
Most of all Brothers is a reminder that war changes us and for some dramatically so. It's an ever sobering reality, particularly for the war veteran, but an important reminder for those who should be supporting our soldiers. It reminds us to take heart and understand.
After all, these men and women are serving our country as commissioned, just as Captain Cahill notes, "it's my job." For our brothers and sisters it wouldn't hurt to do our part.
Brothers. Writer: David Benioff. Director: Jim Sheridan.
What critics had to say:
Rotten Tomatoes ranked Brothers at 63% Tomato.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 (of 4) stars.
Blu-Ray.com: "Brothers is a character-driven film that remains captivating from start to finish. ... a plot that never fails to delight and repulse. I'd understand if the intensity of the film is a bit too much for some viewers."
The War Film Blog: Recommended.
The War: Afghanistan (2001-present).
What drew me to the film:
As creator of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, I was looking to change things up a bit.
The older one gets, this writer wonders if he doesn't desperately seek to feel something from cinema so often lacking from the majority of mainstream films today. Give me something, anything that makes me feel connected to the human race. Fortunately Brothers is one of those films.
Additionally, interest in the war genre appeared at Musings from time to time, but I was looking to do something a little different. Thus, The War Film Blog was born. This is the result of an effort to take a break from science fiction for a while, but still enjoy some of the human interest components that genuinely shine in both genres. This site is designed to explore my love of the genre, respect for history coupled with my love of country.
This writer was also enjoying a return to experiencing films over and above the often lengthier, but expert work of character-driven television.
The War Film Blog is kind of a remedy to my missing muse. As Brothers is my first post for the new blog it was worth adding this additional explanation of how the blog came to pass. In any case, The War Film Blog is the resulting desire for something different. Same voice. Different blog.
I've often toyed with the idea of a Facebook page too, but something keeps telling me I might find that somewhat maddening.
So what drew me to Brothers? Again, a love of the war genre for starters. A love of history. And a fascination with the psychological impact and fragility of man placed within such extreme environments. It's at once fascinating and moving to me.
As much as I enjoy the intense action-based films within the genre as much as the next testosterone-driven male, there's also much more to explore within these psychologically complex narratives based on true stories and real events.
To consider the traumas and psychological hardships individuals must overcome in their own lives day to day is intriguing on its face. It's different for everyone, and this writer has plenty of his own to navigate. Never mind attempting to handle the trauma of war on top of it all. But our country depends on these heroes, these men and women, these fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers who serve their country selflessly. There's something deeply fascinating to me personally in this. There's much to respect and honor in this sacrifice.
The film fan in me was particularly drawn, not only to the subject, but to the cast. This writer has always admired the work of the principals here.
Tobey Macguire never fails as a performer and his white hot intensity in Brothers is yet another sterling example of the actor's work. Brothers may be one of his best. Macguire shined for me in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (1997), Lasse Hallstrom's The Cider House Rules (1999), Wonder Boys (2000), Seabiscuit (2003) and his exceptional portrayal of Peter Parker in Sam Raimi's Spider Man film trilogy. In fact, he's a real highlight in those superhero pictures grounding them more in character than effects. He is that human component so often missing in superhero cinema for me.
Natalie Portman continues to win me over since her young portrayal of the precocious Mathilda in Leon: The Professional (1994), her first film. The Star Wars prequels did her no favors, but the end result is hardly of her making. Still, V For Vendetta (2006) and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010) continue to highlight her star power. Her work here in Brothers is exceptional and more complex and subtle that the often typical portray of the home front housewife.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead, End Of Watch) is interesting to me. Each film with his work tells me I should be paying more attention than I do to him as actor. There are many, but Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners (2013) is a fine example. I suspect there are others and I'll need to make a course correction when it comes to his films.
Sam Shephard (Black Hawk Down) was merely a bonus.
Equally important, and somewhat unexpected, was Jim Sheridan's involvement in the director's chair. His aforementioned earlier films starring Daniel Day-Lewis left a lasting impression and I often love the Irish director's work. He brings something special of his own to Brothers.
Finally, a love of family and for my own brother drew me to the subject matter of this particular war film.
Overall, that's what drew me to Brothers. Brothers is a keeper.