Thirty-something Captain Sam Cahill and his younger brother Tommy Cahill, are polar opposites. A Marine about to embark on his fourth tour of duty, Sam is a steadfast family man married to his high school sweetheart, the aptly named Grace, with whom he has two young daughters. Tommy, his charismatic younger brother, is a drifter just out of jail who's always gotten by on wit and charm. He slides easily into his role as family provocateur on his first night out of prison, at Sam's farewell dinner with their parents, Elsie and Hank Cahill, a retired Marine. Shipped out to Afghanistan, Sam is presumed dead when his Black Hawk helicopter is shot down in the mountains. At home in suburbia, the Cahill family suddenly faces a shocking void, and Tommy tries to fill in for his brother by assuming newfound responsibility for himself, Grace, and the children.

A faithful remake, but is it a worthwhile one?

A simple piece of advice regarding this film: don’t bother watching it until you have at least seen the excellent Danish original, also called Brothers (Brodre) and readily available in Australia on DVD. Even then I’d have to ask why you’d want to bother.

That’s not because this Hollywood retread, directed by Irishman Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father) is godawful. For a start it’s respectably acted, though I question some of the casting choices, and David Benioff’s screenplay cleaves reasonably closely to the original, co-written by director Susanne Bier and that virtual one-man screenwriting industry, Anders Thomas Jensen.

No, the issue is this: since Brothers (Brodre) works just about perfectly, why would you subject yourself to an inferior film that settles within its shadow.

To recap, the story is a twist on the old Cain and Abel archetype of two brothers in conflict, one good, the other, well, you guessed, not so good. US marine Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is on leave from serving in Afghanistan. His devoted wife and mother of his two daughters Grace is the butter-wouldn’t-melt type – which you know because she’s played by America’s current sweetheart, Natalie Portman. These two clearly love and respect each another.

After leaving gaol, Sam’s shady sibling Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is dutifully accepted – rather than warmly welcomed – back into the family fold. Tommy’s chief role at first is to be belittled and patronised at family gatherings by the boys’ disapproving father Hank (Sam Shepard), a strict military type with a pole wedged permanently up his backside.

Good and bad – looks simple. But that’s not how things play out for reasons that if you’ve not seen the original, are best not described in detail. Suffice to say that Sam returns to duty in Afghanistan, leaving his black sheep brother to start spending more time with Grace. Major plot stuff happens.

There are two chief problems with this version of the story, the first being that a pivotal scene set in Afghanistan is so unpersuasively filmed that everything that follows – the true meat of the drama – suffers. The second is that scenes between Tommy and Grace seriously miss the juice that Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Connie Nielsen brought to the original. Take away that juice and you’ve nothing left worth saving. The drama starts to fall apart.

Both Benioff (who adapted 25th Hour from his own novel for Spike Lee) and Sheridan seem, on the face of it, respectable choices to direct this material. But they seem to be walking dutifully in their predecessors’ boots. The result is that Brothers feels slightly flat, with odd outbursts of melodrama that seem to erupt almost from nowhere. It never really settles into the life or death drama that it’s trying to be.

This may be a remake with integrity, but really, what’s the point?


1 hour 44 min
In Cinemas 18 March 2010,
Fri, 07/16/2010 - 11