Tobey Maguire is Sam, a blue-collar US Marine, wife to Grace (Natalie Portman), father to two young daughters and brother to Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is fresh out of jail, a bit of a waster but essentially a softie who is forever bullied by his father (Sam Shepard), a damaged Vietnam vet. After Sam heads to Afghanistan, he’s soon missing, presumed dead (we see a superfluous scene of a helicopter crashing). Back home, the family attends a military funeral and soon Grace is reassessing her frosty attitude towards Tommy as he helps her with parenting and putting her life back in order – a process that is blown out of the water by a turn of events that’s unexpected by all involved yet revealed to us much earlier. This would be a far better and certainly more daring film if director Jim Sheridan had stuck with Grace’s perspective throughout and allowed us to experience life as she does.
The frustrating thing about ‘Brothers’ is that Sheridan, back on more familiar turf after the frankly weird anomaly of the 50 Cent movie ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ’, gives his actors and story more than enough room to breathe by adopting a calm, observational shooting style and allowing scenes to run naturally and find their feet. It’s just that they never do. It takes two-thirds of the film for any scene of real emotional truth or power to emerge – and by then we’re lost, shaking our heads at a missed opportunity to avoid the middle-of-the-road treatment that the presence of U2 and ample soft rock on the soundtrack always threatened.