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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Brothers

March 20th, 2010

Brothers - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Brothers is a remake of a Danish film of the same name that was made back in 2004. That film earned impeccable reviews, but like many foreign language films it struggled to find an audience here. When the remake was given the greenlight, the studio announced it would star Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal and that it would be released in the heart of Awards Season. There were some who thought the film could be an Awards Season player. That didn't exactly pan out. However, outside of these expectations, can the film survive on its own merits?

Tobey Maguire plays Sam Cahill, a Marine about to return to Afghanistan. One of the last things he does before leaving is to pick up his brother, Tommy, who is being released from prison after serving a stint for armed robbery. Tommy is clearly the misfit of the family and his father is more or less open with his disapproval. This is a feeling held by Sam's wife, Grace.

Shortly after Sam begins his deployment, his helicopter is shot down and all aboard are reported as dead. This obviously crushes Grace and her two kids: Isabelle and Maggie. It also hits Tommy, who always felt he couldn't live up to his brother. In an attempt to make up for his past mistakes, Tommy tries to help Grace and her two kids. He is initially able to win over Isabelle and Maggie, but Grace is more resistant to his attempt to rehabilitate himself. Eventually, their mutual grieving helps them bond and then eventually they share a passionate kiss. They immediately recognize this was a mistake, but remain close.

Things get a lot more complicated when Grace discovers that Sam wasn't killed, only captured. He was rescued by the U.S. military and is now on the way home. However, once he does get home, he's a changed man and won't talk to his wife about it.

Actually, that's how the story unfolds from the perspective of Grace and Tom while we the audience see Sam's story develop concurrently. Maybe if we didn't learn about the two storylines in parallel, the film would have been able to build tension better. Maybe if we thought Sam was truly dead for longer, or didn't learn about what he had to do to survive till the end of the movie... maybe then it would have had more emotional weight to it. Instead, it felt like the filmmakers were unsure of the basic family story and were trying too hard, which pushed the film into the realm of the melodrama too often. On the other hand, there are some great performances in this movie, which is something Jim Sheridan has been able to elicit in nearly all of his films. And these strong performances are not just from the established cast. As in In America, he was able to draw out excellent performances from his two youngest cast members, Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare.

On a side note, a lot of what I talk about in the synopsis above might seem like major spoilers, but it's all in the trailer. This might be one of the reasons the film didn't live up to expectations, either with critics or at the box office. Perhaps if they sold the film as a drama about the emotional impact of a soldier dying in a war on his wife, his kids, his brother, etc. and left the other part of the story as a surprise, it would have had a greater emotional punch to it.

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with the director, Jim Sheridan, who provides information on the making of the movie, differences from the original, casting, etc. It's a little low key, but worth listening to. Remade in the U.S.A. is a 13-minute featurette on the original movie and how it was remade for the American audiences. Family and Film is a 16-minute interview featurette about Jim Sheridan and how his family life affects his directorial style.

The Blu-ray has no additional special features other than the ability to set bookmarks. But it does look and sound better than expected. It's not a high budget movie, but you can't tell from the video encoding. Additionally, the sound is strong, but since it is a dialogue driven drama, this is not the kind of movie you will use to show off your home theater system. That said, it only costs 25% more than the DVD, which is a very fair price to pay for this sort of release.

The Verdict

Is Brothers busted Oscar bait? Yes. However, at least the filmmakers were aiming high. Even though the film doesn't reach its potential, it is still worth checking out. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray are overloaded with extras, but there's enough here that they would be solid rentals.

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Filed under: Video Review, Brothers