— by ALEXA MILAN —
If you’ve seen the trailers for the ensemble drama “Brothers,” you probably think it’s just another tired, melodramatic love triangle story. But this movie is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t always judge a film by its trailer.
“Brothers” actually has very little to do with the love triangle aspect that dominates the trailer, but rather explores the tragic effect war can have on families, and how that effect doesn’t always go away after the soldier returns home.
Tobey Maguire plays Sam Cahill, a marine who is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman). Sam has always been a do-gooder and is the favorite son of his father (Sam Shepard), an alcoholic and retired military man. As Sam deploys to Afghanistan, his younger brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is released from jail, where he did time for robbing a bank.
Not long after Sam deploys, two soldiers arrive at Grace’s house telling her Sam is dead following a helicopter crash. Feeling lost and alone and unsure of how to raise her two young daughters on her own, Grace develops a friendship with Tommy, who has been hit hard by Sam’s death. He changes his bad boy ways and takes it upon himself to care for Grace and the girls, fixing up their house and acting as a father figure.
But, as is revealed in the trailer, Sam actually isn’t dead. He and another marine made it out of the crash alive but were taken prisoner. As his family copes with his supposed death at home, the audience sees Sam tortured as a prisoner of war. In order to see his family again he is forced to make an impossible choice, one that haunts him long after he returns home.
Suffering from intense post traumatic stress disorder, Sam becomes increasingly paranoid and is convinced his wife and brother’s friendship is actually something more. Destroyed by the trauma of war, Sam clearly isn’t the man he once was. His family desperately tries to get him to tell them what happened in Afghanistan, hoping to help him heal as the family unravels around him.
Yes, there is an obvious attraction between Grace and Tommy, and as is shown in the trailer, they do kiss once, though the kiss is mostly out of their shared grief about losing Sam. Sam is paranoid their relationship runs deeper, but it’s one of many things Sam is paranoid about as a result of the PTSD.
The studio likely felt people wouldn’t want to see a deep and harrowing film about the emotional ramifications of war, so it was marketed as being focused almost entirely on the love triangle angle. But “Brothers” is actually a gripping story featuring outstanding performances from its three leads.
I was most surprised by Maguire, who was unimpressive in his last major role in “Spider-Man 3.” In “Brothers,” he achieves a performance with much more depth than I’ve seen from him previously. You can see the pure anguish in his eyes when he is being tortured in Afghanistan and you can feel the mental suffering he feels after he returns home and is traumatized by his experiences during the war. When placed in the hands of director Jim Sheridan, Maguire’s acting is at its best.
Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare are also fantastic as Sam and Grace’s daughters, desperately wanting their father back but afraid of the tormented man he’s become.
“Brothers” isn’t easy to watch, but I think exploring PTSD in soldiers and its effects on their families is an important issue to capture on film, and Sheridan and his cast achieve it beautifully. Rather than judging “Brothers” by its trailer, I would definitely recommend giving it a chance.
Follow Alexa Milan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexamilan.