Perhaps through no fault of its own, Brothers has been turned on this awards season. Maybe because its familiar to this part of the year, not in content maybe but n everything else. The complex, dark family drama is a mainstay of the Oscar season; as is the semi-topical tone, funneled through Human drama so as to not be openly political. Because God forbid right? I think Brothers is a perfectly competent example of what it is, well-acted with only occasionally obnoxious direction by Jim Sheridan. But it plays safe with its darkness, and that stops it from being what is the standard film of Oscar season, good but not great in too many places, relying on show reel moments of intensity instead of actual earned emotion.
This all sounds a little cruel, and to be honest I did like this movie. It had a potentially interesting dynamic, and like I said I enjoyed most of the acting. The plot follows upstanding, good guy US soldier Tobey Maguire with his hot wife Natalie Portman and two cutesy kids. His washout brother Jake Gyllenhaal has just been released from prison and is a layabout drunk. Maguire though, is about to go to Afghanistan and once there, his supposed death messes up the family dynamic real good. First things first, Maguire is very good. The best he's been in a very long time, perhaps all the way to before his career was devoured by Spider-Man. He's a much more interesting actor then he appears though, beneath the fronted awkwardness is a real talent for this, and he does the slow burn meltdown fantastically. Gyllenhaal too, sets himself apart in a potentially difficult role, but he is falling into a decidedly self-defacing pattern, where he gives a very good performance overshadowed by a slightly better one. See Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Peter Sarsgaard in Jarhead, Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac and now Tobey Maguire in Brothers. Its a very honorable career path, but perhaps not the most personally profitable one. But when has that ever been a criticism of an actor right? Anyway he is very good here, giving a pleasingly mature performance. Portman is good too, in a role that certainly could have gone by the wayside. I think her stunningly beautiful looks has set her career back in an entirely unnecessary way. She's done great work, but the world continues to solely objectify her. Why we can't appreciate both simultaneously is beyond me.
The film itself I think is prevented from being really good because it dwells in the set-up too long, particularly with the Maguire in Afghanistan plot, the real dramatic meat of the thing is in his re-integration into family-life, yet that segment feels rushed, when the movie took its sweet time in building it up. That being said, there are a couple of sweetly tense dinner table scenes, playing out like a social time bomb. I think Maguire is best in the latter one of these scenes, even more so then in his climactic freak out. there he underplayed the lack of belonging and it was for me a little more effective. But Brothers is a passable, occasionally more then that drama, and while some of the emotional beats may be a little familiar, it still mostly worked for me.