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Vol. LXIII, No. 49
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

HONEY, I REALLY DON’T HAVE MUCH CHOICE: Sam (Tobey Maguire, left) explains to his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) that, as an officer in the Marines, he really cannot refuse to obey his call up order to go to Afghanistan.

Brothers: Sheridan Directs Remake of Danish Family Saga

Kam Williams

When a six time Oscar nominee makes a new movie, its release is eagerly anticipated. Such is the case with Jim Sheridan, the Dublin born director and scriptwriter of the films My Left Foot (1989), In the Name of the Father (1993), and In America (2002).

Unfortunately, he fails to generate any of his trademark intensity in Brothers, a remake of Brodre (2004), a film that is an examination of the repercussions of war by a Danish military family. As is often the case with remakes of foreign films, a lot gets lost in the English translation. The movie is a watered down version of the original, with melodramatic outbursts and many inappropriate moments of levity.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire portray the brothers in the title. At the point of departure we meet Tommy Cahill (Gyllenhaal), a criminal who is being paroled after having served time for committing a bank robbery. He is picked up from prison by his big brother, Sam (Maguire), who is a straitlaced Marine captain.

Sam is blissfully in love with his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman), and together the former football star and his cheerleader wife are raising their two daughters (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare) in a picture-perfect suburban home surrounded by the proverbial picket fence. However, their blissful life is spoiled by the stop-loss order that will send Sam, the Afghan War veteran, back overseas in less than a week.

Prior to Sam’s departure, we see the sharp contrast between Sam and Tommy. Whether it’s little Maggie confiding in her uncle that “Mom doesn’t like you,” or the family patriarch Hank (Sam Shepard) who exhorts him to “try mimicking your brother for a change?” the ex-con can’t catch a break. Of course, nobody wants Sam to leave, and his girls, his wife, and his mother (Mare Winningham) each take turns trying to convince him not to abandon them again. Nonetheless, after a man-to-man exchange with his retired military father, the dutiful Marine stoically grits his teeth and ships out with his unit.

What follows is bizarre beyond belief. First, Sam is taken prisoner when his helicopter is shot down in the mountains of Afghanistan. Inexplicably, he is subsequently reported as “Killed in Action” rather than “Missing in Action,” a highly improbable mistake which sets off a chain of events that plays out like a variation of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son.

Seeking redemption, Tommy grows up overnight and becomes helpful around the house while offering his grieving sister-in-law a little more than a shoulder to lean on. Even his nieces suddenly love him, and they appreciate how he patiently plays along with their childish pranks.

Just when it looks like everybody’s adjusting to life without Sam, the plot predictably thickens when Sam returns. He has a severe case of post traumatic stress syndrome and consequent anger management issues that are exacerbated by suspicions that his wife has been cheating on him with his brother. The audience at my screening failed to take this development seriously, and they were laughing out loud during anxious confrontations that were meant to be tense.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for profanity and disturbing violence. Running time: 105 minutes. Studio: Lionsgate Films.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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