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There is a ready-made dramatic allure to having a glimpse inside the mechanics of a military family; the dynamics of which is one of those things that can never fully be grasped by those outside of that circle.  A clan within a clan, there is an outwardly strong and inwardly fragile thread that binds these folks.  They have put service to their country before personal concerns and throw wholehearted support to the mission that their nearest and dearest military member is enduring.  Based on a 2004 Danish film, Brothers is the story of one such household, but while this intimate drama hinges on the mysteries of what makes them tick, the film finds its common ground in the travails of families everywhere.

The Cahillís are a classic multi-generational military family, with both the elder Cahill and his firstborn son, Sam, officers during their respective war times.  It is only days before Sam is deployed to Afghanistan that he is there when his younger brother Tommy walks out of prison.  It is without hesitation or doubt that Sam commands his troops on their mission; his bond with them evident even when tragedy strikes a helicopter transport over the mountains.  The aftermath of that tragedy takes unbearable tolls on all the members of the Cahill family.

Superb performances from Tobey Maguire and Sam Shepard shine in Brothers.  Maguire is riveting as Sam Cahill.  Besides being a model Marine, Sam is the portrait of a loving family man.  He married his beautiful, adoring high school sweetheart; heís a doting father and a chip off his dadís impressive, epauleted block.  Heís even a pillar of support for his neíer-do-well brother, Tommy, who is as much the Cahillís black sheep as Sam is their shining light.  Samís transformation from loving, foursquare husband and father to an unbalanced, dangerous doppelganger is truly terrifying and Maguire reaches harrowing depths.  Sam Shepard adds layers to the tough-as-nails alcoholic veteran who makes no bones about his adoration of one son over the other.  Shepard seethes at the sight of scapegrace Tommy, even wishing the tragedy had taken him instead of Sam; yet is the picture of an indulgent, gentle grandfather to Samís two daughters.  As in 2002ís In America, director Jim Sheridan once again nurtures wonderful work from his youngest cast members:  Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare play the youngest Cahillís, with an explosive moment from Madison that nearly stops the film with its power.  Oscar noms abound.

The only moments of hesitation I had during Brothers was initially in looking at Maguire as the respected military captain, husband, father of two young girls and older brother to Jake Gyllenhaalís Tommy, and while the actor is actually old enough to be all those things, he is possessed of a boyish face that throws one for a second.  The other quibble I had was as to whether it was even necessary to show the scenes in Afghanistan at all. I think the plight of the Cahillís mightíve been better told without those moments because the reality is they donít know what happened to Sam during his mission, which is part of their difficulty in coping.  Those scenes affected the filmís pacing and only served to take me away from the familyís story of recovery, which was at the heart of the piece.  Maguireís amazing work overcame the first issue and I can give a pass to the second because the rest of the film is so satisfying.

While one is tempted to call Brothers a war film, it is only marginally so; despite the intimate glimpse in the lives of this military clan, the war is only the backdrop for any family tragedy.  Brothersí focus is on the intricate web of the delicate dynamics of a family and how a single incident can change them forever.  Bravo to Jim Sheridan and his brilliant cast for their deft and sensitive handling of such complex and universal issues.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Dec. 4th, 2009



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(Courtesy of  Lionsgate)



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