Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brothers (2009)

When I first saw the trailer for Jim Sheridan's remake of the Danish film Brødre (2004) I was convinced that a foreign language film was finally being made in english for the right reasons. Now, having seen both versions, I'm not so sure about that. So many times we get American remakes because someone with the money and the power thinks that films with subtitles are unappealing to American audiences. The best example I can think of from recent years is the Swedish film Let The Right One In (2008). I liked that remake quite a bit, even though it was completely unnecessary in the first place. The remake of Brødre makes a little more sense.
Brothers opens with Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal) being released from jail after doing time for armed robbery. His brother United States Marine Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is picking him up and driving him into town. This scene in this film is done in a much more lighthearted way than in the earlier version. There are smiles and Tommy's outward expression of anger and guilt are much more toned down. But we still notice it. All of this happens as the opening credits flash on and off. One thing that jumped out at me, and it seemed like it was shown in a larger font than the rest of the credits, were the words, "Winter Performed by U2." Oddly enough, those words were to set the tone of the entire film for me, leaving a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.
You would think that a film about a man getting out of jail and reconnecting with his brother and his brother's family would make a great premise. But this story is just getting started. Tommy fits the ex-jailbird stereotype. He stays out drinking every night and thinks little of any consequence that may come his way. He scoffs at his brother's suggestion that he "apologize to that girl."
Sam fits the stereotype of a U.S. soldier. He jumps at the chance to serve his country in Afghanistan. Later in the film he even requests to go back. He's a family man. He's neat and organized and he even seems to have all of his marbles. While I was watching early scenes and then again in some of the later ones in the film, I kept thinking that Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire would have been much better suited in each other's role. Maybe it's worth making a third time.
As Tommy is settling back into his life, Sam gets called to serve in Afghanistan. While he's there, his helecopter is shot down while on a mission. His body is not recovered and his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) is informed that he has died. This is a very well done scene where we see the two soldiers interact with her children and we see the knowing look of horror on Grace's face when she immediately realizes why they are there. We do not see or here her being told, but we know what's happening and we feel her pain.
The film then moves back to Afghanistan where we see that Sam is still alive and is being held prisoner in an Al-Qaeda mountain camp. Something happens here that changes him and when he returns home, he is no longer the same person.
Tommy and Grace have become very close since receiving the news of Sam's death. Tommy seems to have turned his life around and stepped up in ways that Grace needs but is also unready for. When Grace gets the news on the phone that her husband is still alive, again we only see the reaction on her face through the kitchen window, while she watches Tommy play with her two daughters with the phone pressed to her ear. This is such smart directing from Jim Sheridan.
Sam returns home and life goes on, but it is immediately apparent that something isn't quite right. He's detached and cold with a quick temper that can turn to violence. Especially when Sam starts thinking that something went on romantically between Tommy and Grace. This all leads to a climax that makes sense, but is just not all that interesting. Maguire very narrowly escapes what could have been a parody of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
While this film handles it's subjects of family, grief and redemption very well in the storytelling, there are some key scenes that should be very moving and powerful, but they come off as slightly amusing.
The best acting in the film is from the two little girls who play Isabelle and Maggie, the daughters of Sam and Grace. The older one has to deliver some very difficult lines later in the film. And they both are natural and real with great facial expressions.
The real flaw of this film is that it's just so glossy and finished-well produced. It really is the antithesis of its predecessor. The former was made with the rules of Dogme 95 in mind. It was filmed with HD video and looked more like real life. This film is no different looking than the typical big budget blockbuster that has ironically become a dime a dozen. The subject matter calls for a much smaller and cheaper production. But having said that, there are better films than Brødre out there as well. I would recommend seeing both of these films for comparison and to educate yourself on how Hollywood short changes the viewer by remaking a foreign language film, or don't bother with either one. Brothers ends with the aforementioned U2 song. It's a good song and it fits well, but I guess a glossy, big budget production gets a song from the biggest band in the world.

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