Review: Brothers

If you’ve seen the trailer for Brothers you might expect a fraught and fratricidal investigation into what happens when a woman sleeps with her husband’s brother. That’s certainly what I was looking forward to when I bought my ticket.

What I got was a rather different movie about what happens when a man comes home after experiencing appallingly traumatic events in Afghanistan.

Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is happily married to Grace (Natalie Portman) until his army helicopter crashes and he, along with a junior soldier, is taken captive by the Taliban. Unpleasantness ensues.

He finally gets home, but is so damaged by his experience that he cannot fit back into his previously blissful family life. Tobey Maguire is brilliant here; the awkward way he stands in his kitchen makes him look utterly alien – and then makes the kitchen look utterly alien. You get a real sense of the absurdity of nice laminate surfaces after the fear and brutality of war.

There’s a great scene around the table at a birthday party, when a balloon threatens to burst under the elder daughter’s anxious, attention-seeking grip. The rubber creaks and moans awfully under the pressure, and Maguire’s every muscle looks ready to rupture, Akira-style.

Jake Gyllenhall puts in a delightful performance as the ex-lag brother; he reminds me of a drug-fuelled Robbie Williams. And Natalie Portman does well with a pretty empty ‘good wife’ role.

This film is a remake, and I’m curious what has been changed. In this version, the brother and wife don’t (as the trailer suggests) end up sleeping together. And the movie is, of course, almost ruined by too much Hollywood syrup. I suspect the original –  a Danish film by Dogme director Susanne Bier –  is a touch more tart.