New film features good acting, lacks compelling drama

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I have always felt that, no matter what, a movie of any genre has the responsibility to take its audience for a ride it will never forget. Action films should be a thrilling ride full of drops and high-speed twists and turns; horror films have to take their audiences into the scary unknown; and dramas need to send the audience into an emotional roller coaster where joy and laughter can instantly become pain and sorrow.

“Brothers” falls under the “drama” category and, while it is undoubtedly emotional and has some of the parts to make it an emotional roller coaster, director Jim Sheridan seems satisfied with giving us a Ferris wheel experience. Sure, Ferris wheels are enjoyable to ride, but for those of us who are roller coaster enthusiasts, we know the ride only leaves us hungry for more.

The story centers on two brothers, Tommy and Sam. Sam (Tobey Maguire) is a soldier in Afghanistan with two kids and a beautiful wife, Grace (Natalie Portman). Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), on the other hand, has just been released from prison. When Sam’s helicopter is shot down and he is reported dead, Tommy takes the initiative to comfort Grace and the kids. Just as Tommy and Grace become intimately close with one another, Sam returns home after being tortured by Taliban fighters. From there, the tensions run high, and the family strains to keep it together.

This is a dark story with multiple emotional complications between characters, yet it never feels emotionally complicated. Once Sam returns home, Tommy severs his romantic ties with Grace like a caring brother, and Sam acts like a raging lunatic. It is too neat. Morality over a character’s actions never comes into question and, in the end, Tommy is in the right, and Sam is in the wrong.

What would have made this movie fantastic is if Sheridan put his characters through the wringer. After Sam’s death, Tommy and Grace should have fallen madly in love with one another and moved on with their lives for a decent period of time.

The torture scenes should have been harsh and uncompromising, showing every detail that would drive Sam over the edge. If the romance was steamier, and the torture more brutal, “Brothers” would have been 10 times better. Sam would have arrived home to see the horror of his brother romantically involved with Grace. We would identify with Sam after watching him get physically and psychologically tortured. Grace would be forced to decide between the two brothers, while Tommy would be romantically conflicted about giving up the love of his life.

Now that would have been a fantastic drama because the characters’ actions would finally come into question. “Who deserves to be with Grace, Tommy or Sam?” “Should Tommy give up Grace?” “Are Sam’s violent reactions justified?” These are questions that would have made a compelling drama. Instead, Jim Sheridan skips over these compelling issues and simply settles for a movie that shows how war can change people. In other words, it is stuff we have seen before.

Despite this flaw, I still enjoyed “Brothers” well enough thanks to the performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is dynamite as the charismatic smart-aleck brother, and Bailee Madison gives such an emotionally raw performance as the older daughter that she outshines all of the adults.

I would still recommend skipping this one. If you want to see a movie that really hits you with the psychological toll of war, watch “The Deer Hunter” instead.

– Patrick Bales is a senior in elementary education. Send comments to edge@spub.ksu.edu.

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