It’s no secret, of course, that I am a Gyllenhaalic. This does have its disadvantages when trying to offer up a review of a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal in it. Not much to do about that so I’ll just try and do my best while also being rather pleased that my first review for this site is for a film called Brothers.
This ‘review’ is spoilery and so please stop here if you have yet to see the film.
Brothers surprises. It has been promoted as a war movie or even as a horror movie. But what you have here is a drama about family and that inevitably means a mass of conflicting moods and emotions as each member of that family tries to cope with something as terrible as the loss of a son, brother, husband, father in war. And so life carries on while a wife cannot sleep and a father drinks and a brother tries to do make amends by fixing a kitchen and building a snowman and trying to comfort a wife who cannot believe her husband is dead. ‘I’d have felt it’ she says. She was right, the husband wasn’t dead, he was lost.
The success of Brothers is due in my opinion to its actors. The calibre of actors is astonishing. For me, the talent of the young actors here has not been in doubt but their selection of movies has been. At last, for Tobey Maguire, I can get past the Spider-Man label and finally I can forget Natalie Portman’s part in the Star Wars prequels. Here we have actors grown up and given material they can work with while drawing sparks from their contemporaries and friends. Jake Gyllenhaal, at the risk of sounding biased, which I am, is not an actor who needs to prove himself. His only drawback is the logjam of delayed and postponed movies under his belt, meaning that we have not seen what he can do for the last two years. A pity, as he can do a lot.
The Cahill family is hardly functional but it is tight. Therefore, we have the horror and brutality of Afghanistan set against the ‘life trying to carry on’ scenes at home, which propose that there can be hope, normality, even a future. Tommy Cahill and his Three Amigos build a kitchen, Tommy twirls on ice with his nieces and this wayward brother even plucks up courage to apologise to the woman he traumatised during the crime that locked him in prison.
As a Jake fan, I must enjoy the frivolous moments in the bar, wanting to touch the nose, and the scenes of Jake skating with the children, throwing snowballs at the children and being there to play with them – while their father was lost and also when he returned and frightened them. This comic turn of Jake’s isn’t often seen to be enjoyed.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s larger than life earnestness and care dominates much of Brothers and it is wonderful to watch. Tobey Maguire by contrast has to make us understand the depths that men may sink to when there is no choice. I was surprised that I liked Sam Cahill as much as I did, but, following his journey, it would be unfair not to. Natalie Portman grows up here before our eyes. A cheerleader army wife who kisses a brother to taste her husband’s lips. It’s complex. Life is. Grief is.
The scenes that shine for me the most are those between Tommy and the children. Bailee Madison’s lip trembles at an extraordinary rate but you can’t help but feel for this little girl when she apologises to her mother for what she told her father.
A motif throughout the film is one of drowning. Sam had saved both Tommy and Joe from lakes. Finally, it’s Sam telling Tommy that he’s drowning and Tommy has a chance to pull him up for air and breath life into his brother. This is a family that finds it far easier to communicate through tattoos than spoken words. But finally, when there’s no other option, there’s no choice.