Sam Cahill (Maguire) must go to war just as his younger brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. Their father (Shepard) holds Sam in the highest of regards while at the same time he looks at Tommy as a disgrace to the family. After news is broken that Sam has died in Afghanistan Tommy takes it upon himself to try and be the watchful protector of Sam’s wife Grace (Portman) and their two young daughters. All that changes when Sam returns home alive and well, because he had been held prisoner for months on end and was subjected to brutal torture. Sam is moody, irrational and hell bent on believing that his brother has taken over his spot as head of the family.
After Sam returns from war he frightens his young children, his moods are different, he is easily agitated and not as kind and big hearted as he was before. Sam kept his secrets from Afghanistan hidden from his family, he wanted to resume his normal life, get back to the way things used to be, but he was trapped deep inside his own mind, where he was forced to live with what had happened and he just wasn’t ready to face that burden. Jake and Tobey have always been compared as far as looks are concerned, both were in the mix with Spiderman and now here we are and they are playing Brothers in a war film. Their chemistry is great and their relationship goes up and down, and they actually begin to switch roles when you think about it. Tommy starts out rough and disconnected, Sam loving and nurturing to his young girls, and in the end it is Uncle Tommy that Sam's two daughters want around.
When you dig deeper into Brothers it becomes evidently clear there should have been more scenes where the main characters were not afraid to explode emotionally on one another. Tommy with his father, Tommy and Grace, Sam’s daughters with Tommy, they played the sympathetic brother card and how he became like a father to them, but I was hoping they would realize at some point that they should want their father back, nothing against uncle Tommy don’t get me wrong he was a valuable character to the final outcome but those children at some point would have missed their father and not been able to just replace him whole heartedly with his brother. When you think about the quick transformation Tommy had, you wonder why he couldn’t have just been like that since day one, it is difficult to buy into that he changed on a whim just like that because he needed to step up. Naturally when he begins to spend more time with Grace he begins to fall for her, but nothing ever happens except a kiss but Sam believes there is more to it than that.
I did enjoy the tension that builds in brothers; you can feel it from the very first scene down to the final scene where Sam tells Grace what happened during the war all though the audience already knows because he saw what he did. I did like Tobey as Sam changed, not necessarily pre-war Tobey, he reminded me of a grown up army man Peter Parker, but when he returned home, Tobey got to show his emotional range as an actor, happy to be home yet part of his wishes he would have never come home. It must be a terrible feeling to feel disconnected from your family but still wanting to be close with them because they are the one thing holding you back from completely losing your mind. Brothers reminds me of a kid at the beach when the water is cold, testing it first, getting used to the cold, or never actually just enjoying the beach always just dipping their toes in the water. Brothers never dives when it should have, it quietly and effortlessly dips its toes in the icy cold waters only to retract right away. It never adds wood to the already burning fire to keep it going so to speak. It almost seems like having these characters have a showdown which results in permanent change would be way to difficult, it almost seems that at times Brothers is afraid to tell us exactly the damage that can be done by war. Jim Sheridan you had in the palm of your hand the chance to deliver a deep and meaningful message of how this war not only affects those fighting in it but can change their lives completely and Sheridan you had the chance to show us how messed up these people can become when they go through war, but you chose to calm the intensity down when you had it boiling and you had the audience cringing with chills. The ending is completely wrong for this film and that is sad because the middle parts of this film were shaping this film for some thrilling climax and that just never happens. The actors did a fine job with the script they were given, but these war films need to step it up a notch and deliver their messages loud and clear and stop dancing around what they think we have already seen and heard about.