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Brothers (DVD Review)

22 Feb, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Prebook 2/24/10; Street 3/23/10
Box Office $28.5 million
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language and some disturbing violent content.
Stars Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Shepard, Clifton Collins Jr., Mare Winningham.

Director Jim Sheridan’s year-ender was generally, though not universally, regarded as somewhat of a bust, but it has the ability to gnaw at you around the edges if not always straight down the middle. At minimum, it delivers on a casting coup that must have occurred to everyone at one time or another — that Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal suggest one another so much that it’s almost surprising that the industry found room enough for both.

Maguire plays the straight-arrow Marine son (a jock as well) of a military hard-ass (Sam Shepard) — presumably lost in Afghanistan but instead a survivor of extreme psychological torture. Gyllenhaal is a screw-up younger brother just out of jail who’s redeemed by the affection (but not sex) from the Maguire spouse (Natalie Portman) who presumes her husband to be dead.

Maguire gives a totally wired performance after his character returns home and goes bonkers assuming much more has been going on between his brother and wife than really has (basically one kiss, a shared reefer and some kitchen repair work). The former Spider-Man takes it right up to the point where his intensity risks being risible — yet his acting so contrasts with what we’ve seen on screen from him before that I, for one, was kind of shaken.

Gyllenhaal’s character is on the sketchy side, so he has to fill in some blanks. Portman is characteristically gorgeous and plays a former cheerleader to boot, and doesn’t necessarily seem like an obvious match with Maguire, even in the expository scenes where he’s more “adjusted.”

The portrayal of the young Maguire-Portman daughters, though, rings exceptionally true, extending Sheridan’s previous track record directing children. Adults Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou were both Oscar-nominated for their performances in Sheridan’s 202 film In America, but many viewers were as captivated by the performances of young Sarah and Emma Bolger. Here, their natural youthful charm is almost matched by Taylor Geare and Bailee Madison.

A remake of 2004’s Brodre (from Denmark), the movie doesn’t quite hang together. But some of the widescreen compositions reminded me some of Nicholas Ray’s hot-house CinemaScope expressiveness from the 1950s, and this is a movie you can go into blindly and immediately sense that someone great shot it. Indeed: Frederick Elmes of Eraserhead, River’s Edge, Blue Velvet and Synedoche, New York.

Extras include commentary by director Jim Sheridan and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

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