Movie News & Reviews

'Brothers' sizzles, boils, then goes nowhere

You know what's special about having a brother? You can spend yourwhole childhood beating him up or tricking him into eating mud pies,but then when you grow up, you can still threaten him withembarrassing stories until he agrees to help you load your U-Haul.

-- Local show times, theaters.

It's what he gets, too, because of course that was him stealing yourcomics and, later, your wallet all through the early years. All partof the natural cycle of the mutual exploitation committee — or as wecall it in English, the family.

I have, fortunately, never had any romantic rivalries with mybrothers, possibly because one of them is like 80 and the otherdoesn't seem to share my interest in robots with wigs. His loss.Whatever, though, I imagine fighting with your brother over the samegirl is even tougher than translating "I don't believe you're anatural blonde" into binary in a way that doesn't get youelectrocuted. Good thing we've got movies such as Brothers toweird us out when real life can't.

Tobey Maguire, a member of the Marines, prepares to leave his family for another tourin Afghanistan just as his screwup brother Jake Gyllenhaal is getting homefrom a stint in prison. When Maguire's wife Natalie Portman hearsMaguire's been killed in action, Gyllenhaal steps up to help her outwith her home and her two daughters.

But Maguire isn't dead: he's been captured, tortured, brutalized andleft traumatized by the experience. His return home won't be easy foranyone.

Brothers is a family drama, which means it's one of thosemovies where everyone stands around not looking at each other as theytalk about anything but what's really on their minds. With all thosefeelings flying around like wads of overcooked, Ragu-drenchedspaghetti, it's easy to walk out feeling messy and embarrassed.

Two chief weapons can be employed to stop stately drama from turninginto screeching melodrama: steady direction and strong performances.And a sense of humor. OK, three chief weapons.

Director Jim Sheridanappears to belong to the understated school where you stand back andlet the actors speak for themselves. It's a good strategy, becausewhen you've got a whacked-out war hero and an ex-con, and they're alsobrothers, and Gyllenhaal may or may not be subtly trying to winPortman's eye, you don't exactly need to call more attention to thefact this is serious business. To make their emotions any bigger,Sheridan would practically have to wade out into the audience and slapus with gloves until we cry.

Not necessary with a cast like this. Maguire's performance in thethird act is among the most uncomfortable and unsettling things I'veseen since I asked my doctor about that growth. Sam Shepard's role asthe brothers' hard-nosed and favorite-playing dad is hardly new, buthe brings a humanity to it that makes it fresh.

Everyone contributes. It's powerful, it's moving, it's yadda yaddayadda. At the same time, it's got a sense of incompletion, both in itsopen-ended ending and the way certain conversations sizzle up to theboiling point and then...go nowhere.

There's realism in that — real-life conversations about these thingsare usually about as eloquent as a stroked-out Porky Pig — but it'sfrustrating, too, and sometimes a little artificial. There's a lot tolike, it's just not quite as moving as it somehow ought to be.

Grade: B

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