Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal are brothers Sam and Tommy Cahill.
Sam goes to Afghanistan and is taken prisoner. Military authorities believe he’s dead, making his wife, played by Natalie Portman, a widow.
Tommy, who is a drunken loser just out of jail, comforts the widow and the children and finds a new life dynamic.
They kind of fall in love.
Then Sam returns. He had to do awful things to survive as a prisoner of war. His guilt — combined with the love Tommy has for Portman’s Grace and for Sam and Grace’s daughters — complicates the relationship of Sam and Grace and of Tommy, Grace and the kids.
Things get icky and very intense. The children don’t understand why Daddy isn’t like Daddy anymore and want their uncle Tommy. Uncle Tommy — who loves his brother deeply — finds it difficult to be with Grace and Sam.
Things get quickly get icky. Maguire, Gyllenhaal and Portman are up to the challenge. They nail the raw emotion and intensity real people would experience under these circumstances. Their performances are difficult and painful to watch.
So is director Jim Sheridan’s (In America) movie. He and screenwriter David Benihoff (The Kite Runner) plow through a redo of the 2004 Danish film Brodre. Films that heighten the senses, pique awareness and get the emotions boiling are Sheridan’s forte. He takes you to the top of the roller coaster and lets you go. The ride down is tense and packed with wicked, uncomfortable curves.
Some scenes are so strained and emotions are stretched so tight that you — such as the characters — want to get up and leave. Others make you want to grab the character at risk and hug them tight. You love them, you loathe them, you pity them and you care. It’s powerful, powerful filmmaking.
And then it just stops. Like the theme park ride, there is a let down. You braved dangerous territory. You let yourself care. You worried. You let Sheridan’s characters in and you want more.
Maybe that’s intentional. No one wins in war. And the missing payoff highlights the fact.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated R for language, mature themes. It opens today at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.