Tobey Maguire reaches new dramatic heights with his brilliant performance in Brothers. Playing a loyal and responsible U.S. Marine Captain who undergoes a complete change of personality as a result of his captivity in Afghanistan, Maguire surprised me with the depth and maturity of his acting in this well-made but disturbing Jim Sheridan film. Although Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman also deliver outstanding work here, Brothers belongs to Maguire.
When Captain Sam Cahill (Maguire) leaves for another tour in Afghanistan, his loving wife Grace (Portman) and adoring young daughters (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare) are sad to see him go. Naturally, they are devastated to hear of his death while on active duty. So is Tommy (Gyllenhaal), Sam’s irresponsible brother, who has served time in jail. It's not long before Tommy, uncharacteristically, begins to help Grace around the house and starts cheering up his very cute little nieces.
Meanwhile, Sam -- who's not dead as reported -- is being tortured by the enemy and forced to perform a horrendous act that will haunt him forever. After his rescue and return home, he’s a different person entirely. He thinks his wife and brother are having an affair, scares his children, and finally goes into a violent rage that frightens everyone who loves him.
In order to help get into his character, Maguire (Spider-Man) lost quite a bit of weight while filming. This makes Sam look thin and gaunt when he returns home. His eyes appear sunken, his cheekbones are more pronounced, and his body seems emaciated. Although these physical changes enhance Maguire’s interpretation of a man who has suffered unbearable conditions, his ability to draw viewers into Sam’s distressed emotional existence is even more amazing.
In a role also requiring transformation -- though not as drastic a change as Maguire’s character undergoes -- Gyllenhaal (Moonlight Mile) again shows how appealing he can be. Simply thinking about the way Tommy looks so caringly at his sister-in-law and nieces still tugs at my heartstrings.
Portman (V for Vendetta), lovely as ever, makes us feel her pain as a wife going through the tragedy of what’s happening to her husband and her once happy family.
Supporting cast members Sam Shepard (All the Pretty Horses) and Mare Winningham (Swing Vote) are excellent as Sam and Tommy’s parents. Shepard’s unsympathetic turn helps us see how wrong it is to love one child more than another and to constantly compare them.
With Brothers, filmmaker Sheridan (In America) tosses us into a whirlwind of family emotions. Although a couple of scenes come across as overly melodramatic, I admire this movie for its fine acting and for its important message about the power of love.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "R" for language and some disturbing violent content.)
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