'Brothers' had promise but misses the mark

'Brothers' had promise but misses the mark

December 9th, 2009 by Casey Phillips and Holly Leber in Entertainment

Critics' ratings

Casey Phillips: 3/5

Holly Leber: 3/5

Movie: "Brothers"

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman.

Rating: R for language and some disturbing violent content.

Synopsis: A recently paroled convict tries to come to terms with loving the family of a brother he thought was dead.

Casey Phillips: "Brothers" should have been a great film. "The Boxer" and "In America" director Jim Sheridan was at the helm, and the concept of a black-sheep brother stepping in to care for the family of his war-hero brother had "give us an Oscar" written all over it.

But casting Tobey Maguire as the missing war hero was a casting misstep that ruined the film.

He might be convincing as Spider-Man or as a lovable jockey, but believing that Maguire is a combat-seasoned Marine requires too much suspension of disbelief. The only facets of his character he nails were the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and an unnerving, wild-eyed stare.

Jake Gyllenhaal is the film's saving grace. His performance as the skeleton in the family closet is moving, utterly believable and improves almost every scene he's in, including those opposite Maguire or Natalie Portman, who are also unconvincing as parents.

Holly Leber: Because military characters are an easy emotional tack, a writer and director have to work extra hard to not make the story feel manipulative. Beyond the premise of the plot, I wasn't very emotionally invested in the characters with the exception of Gyllenhaal.

Without his quietly effective presence, this film would have been a real disappointment. A scene in which he watches his brother's family walk out of an airport is heartbreaking, his feeling of not belonging palpable. This might be his most stunning role, even including "Brokeback Mountain."

Casey: There is one tense, late-film scene involving a kitchen, a crowbar and a handgun that shows Maguire made an effort to intensify his role. Unfortunately, one scene can't save a performance, and even then, the intensity felt more like a byproduct of the situation than the acting.

Holly: There are several references made to Portman's beauty, and she is very pretty, but pretty isn't enough to pull off a good role. I didn't buy her as a mother and wife.

The movie would have benefited from different casting. If they were looking for effective A-listers, I'd have rather seen Amy Adams in the Portman role and maybe Leonardo DiCaprio in Maguire's. There's a chance that, given more effective performances, the film could have come closer to achieving its potential.

Casey: Even Donnie Darko couldn't quite save this film. Instead of garnering the awards it looked to deserve, "Brothers" will probably languish in my "could have beens" category.

Holly: "Brothers" as a whole may not be very memorable, but Gyllenhaal's performance was stellar.