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On the eve of yet another tour of duty in Afghanistan, Sam Cahill, a proud Marine, reunites with his estranged brother, Tommy, a troubled individual who recently finished a prison sentence. When Sam is presumed dead after his helicopter is shot down, Tommy rises to the occasion and helps his brother's widow, Grace, and two elementary-school-age daughters cope. The dynamics changes again, however, when Sam is found alive and returns home a changed and fractured man.
For more about Brothers and the Brothers Blu-ray release, see Brothers Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on March 23, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Jim Sheridan
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Bailee Madison, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham
» See full cast & crew
Brothers Blu-ray Review
No matter how hard you try, you can't take your eyes off the brilliant performances on display.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, March 23, 2010
Film remakes present a myriad of concerns that act as roadblocks to viewer's acceptance of the final product. Copycat productions such as Gus Van Sant's 1998 Psycho remake elicit head-scratching bewilderment at the sheer laziness of copying another director's vision, while other remakes stray too far from the impact of the original film and come across as a marketing ploy meant to cash in on name-recognition alone. I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of recreating a film experience to make it more palatable to younger generations, but you won't find me jumping for joy at the thought of Uwe Boll tackling a remake of Casablanca. The one situation where I find the word "remake" intriguing (and in no way off-putting) is the welcomed adaptation of a foreign production that deserved recognition, but never achieved traction on domestic shores. From Martin Scorsese' The Departed (the reworking of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs) to Steven Soderbergh's 2002 remake of Solaris, there are times when a story desperately needs to be repackaged for expanded consumption. Such is the case of Brothers, a 2009 remake of the 2004 Danish film titled Brodre. Directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, In America), Brothers attempts to convey the original vision of Danish director Susanne Bier, while adding Sheridan's own flair for emotional storytelling. The end result is a somber look at the impact of violence on the human psyche, and the inherent struggle to assimilate into a world that can't possibly understand the emotional wounds that remain.
When Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) sets out for his fourth tour of duty as a Marine officer in Afghanistan, his family understands the implications and danger involved in his occupation. His wife Grace (Natalie Portman), two young daughters, and military father (Sam Shepard) are proud of the life he's chosen, and view his military accomplishments as heroic. The contrasting element in this family equation is Sam's younger brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who can't stay out of jail long enough to find a job, and spends his evenings creating conflict at the local tavern. Tommy is constantly the subject of his father's vicious scrutiny, and knows he can never live up to the high bar set by his brother. As hard as it is to live in Sam's shadow, Tommy soon finds it even more difficult to live without his comforting presence. Not long after deploying for Afghanistan, Sam's helicopter is shot down over enemy territory and the soldiers in his unit are declared dead. Unlike Sam's family, we know he isn't dead, but rather taken prisoner by enemy soldiers hiding in the cliffs and caves of the region. Forced to endure unspeakable acts of violence that eventually wreak havoc on his emotional state, Sam becomes a shell of his former self, as each act of torture removes further pieces of his humanity. When he's eventually rescued and reunited with his family, he discovers blossoming relationships built on the mourning of his presumed death, and remains distant from his family as a result of his crippling mental state. It takes a lifetime to build trust, and hours to lose it.
Brothers is the type of take-no-prisoner filmmaking that deserves every shred of recognition it receives. In a year of tremendous critical praise for the "other" soldier film (The Hurt Locker), Brothers quickly became the victim of poor timing and a baffling number of negative reviews by mainstream critics. I thoroughly enjoyed The Hurt Locker, and maintain my stance that it's a superior film in almost every way, but Brothers shouldn't be discounted because of its stiff competition, and could almost be viewed as an emotional counterpart to Kathryn Bigelow's film. Here we witness the breakdown of a soldier under intense pressure, but rather than dedicating a large portion of the runtime to the depiction of life overseas, we're introduced to the repercussions of military life on the family members that try to hold the pieces together. Brothers is equally shocking and profound, but the intensity comes more in the form of lost innocence rather than reckless abandon.
Anyone who's familiar with Jim Sheridan's prior work will recognize his continued focus on breaking down human reactions to base levels. Whether it's a family dinner turning south, or the underhanded remarks between father and son, he creates scenarios that tie your stomach in knots and captivate your attention. This intimacy carries into the rest of the film, which never strays into action/blockbuster territory, and forces the cast to carry the burden of success on their shoulders. Even in the scenes that take place during Sam's captivity, the violence is understated and often depicted off-camera, leaving plenty of room for the imagination to run wild instead of descending into classless depictions of gore. The collective balance of Sheridan's direction coupled with the weight of the story creates a film experience that forces each viewer to ask the question "what would I do?" and leaves the audience with contrasting elements of joy and sadness. I'm trying to avoid giving away too many particulars since the film relies on key interactions and relationships for its success, but those of you looking for brutal honesty in dramatic entertainment will surely come away satisfied.
Despite the strength of Sheridan's direction and the precision of the screenplay, the one element that stands out in the film is the incredible acting from the cast. I'll be the first to admit my prior dislike for Tobey Maguire, who never seemed capable of tackling a serious adult role. No doubt there are folks out there that loved his spin as Peter Parker in Sam Raimi's Spiderman trilogy, but I never found him the ideal candidate for the part, and his acting abilities seemed to further justify my lack of enthusiasm. Now that I've seen him in a challenging role that required him to dig deep, my opinion of his potential has changed. It's no easy task to carry a character from the highs of family life to the depths of despair, but Maguire manages to pull it off in an almost flawless manner. In fact, my only complaints with his performance are related more to elements he seemingly can't control, such as his boyish looks and high-pitched (almost pre-pubescent) voice. Those particular aspects lend his character a certain level of innocence within the story, but they make it difficult to buy into the maturity called for in the role of Sam. Equally impressive is Jake Gyllenhaal as the reckless younger brother Tommy. Unlike Maguire, I've always considered Gyllenhaal to be an actor with tremendous potential, and that opinion was further reinforced by the multidimensional performance on display in this film. Tommy is a young man who's trapped in a vicious cycle of inadequacy, so when his charming side begins to bleed through in his interactions with Grace and Sam's two little girls, you can't help but feel a strong desire for things to work out well for the guy. The two other stars of the film (Sam Shepard and Natalie Portman) turn in excellent performances as well, but feel a bit underutilized in comparison with the young male leads. Shepard's at his best during scenes of conflict with Tommy, and Portman attempts to make the most of a role that's often a bit too reactive, but when you consider the cast as one collective whole, the performances are nearly flawless.
Brothers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at an average bitrate of 18Mbps), Brothers is a true revelation in high-definition. Fine object detail is well above average, revealing intricate patterns in the stitching of clothing and every nuance on faces of the predominantly young cast. Whether we're speaking of intimate close-range shots or wide vistas, there's never an ounce of softening to speak of, leaving the image appearing crystal clear (almost as if you're looking through a window). The color palette for the film encompasses several interesting choices that never appear highly attractive, but fall well within the intentional look Sheridan was going for. Many scenes appear drab and gloomy, as if the cheerful colors of a natural spectrum were stripped from the final product. This enhances the emotional undertones of the story, and should be viewed as an appropriate element of the highly effective final product, but may also be a touch off-putting to viewers that expect a vivid spectrum from every Blu-ray offering. Continuing with the positives, black levels retain appropriate depth, and contrast generates an attractive level of shade variance in all but a handful of scenes (the sequences that show a touch of weakness are limited to Sam's captivity, where the film appears a touch on the artificially bright side). Lastly, I never noticed the slightest use of edge-enhancement, DNR is thankfully absent, and there's never a shred of artifacting or aliasing.
Brothers may lack a certain "wow" factor due to intentional choices in the coloring, but this is still a fantastic presentation that accurately recreates the stylistic choices within the source material.
Brothers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Similar to the visual experience, the lossless audio track manages to delight despite its understated nature. As I mentioned in the main section of the review, this is pure drama with just a hint of action. As such, the majority of the audio experience is delivered through dialogue and subtle environmental effects (such as the crunch of snow underfoot). Taking into account the beauty of the performances on display, we can imagine the problems that could have cropped up if the audio balance wasn't delivered with the upmost precision. Thankfully, my worries were quickly put to bed when I realized the audio mix simply allows viewers to become lost in the unfolding drama without experiencing pesky miscues that might pull you out of the story. Whether you're listening to Grace whisper under her breath, or privy to a startling fit of uncontrollable rage courtesy of Sam, you'll never find yourself fumbling for the remote to adjust the volume in one direction or another. In addition to the excellent balance and clarity in the dialogue and effects, the film contains a brilliant soundtrack that truly adds to the charm of the film. U2's song "Winter" was nominated for the Best Original Song Golden Globe, and it's not too difficult to understand the reasoning after you listen to the song within the context of the film.
The overall audio experience won't set your speakers on fire or justify a demonstration of your surround sound setup, but the balance and clarity of the subtle mix still deserves high marks for achieving what it set out to accomplish.
Brothers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Audio Commentary with Jim Sheridan: Out of the various commentary tracks I've experienced over the years, this one ranks somewhere in the middle. Sheridan spends the majority of the track discussing members of the cast and the emotional impact he set out to express through the various performances in the film. There are still technical tidbits thrown in from time to time, but Sheridan often restricts his discussions to the softer side of his vision.
Remade in the USA: How Brodre became Brothers (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 12:46 min): Considering the Danish film Brodre was released in 2004, screenwriter David Benioff and director Jim Sheridan had a seemingly monumental task of remaining true to the original while also presenting their own vision. This topic is also covered in Sheridan's audio commentary, but here we're offered a glimpse at the Danish film along with various cast and crew interviews.
Jim Sheridan: Film and Family (1080p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 15:53 min): The directing style of Jim Sheridan is chronicled in this featurette. Throughout the various interviews with the cast and crew of Brothers, you get the idea that Mr. Sheridan is a very personal director, who elicits a strong emotional response through his coaching and film techniques.
Rounding out the extras, we have a high-definition trailer for Brothers.
Brothers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Brothers is a character-driven film that remains captivating from start to finish. I'd be curious to see the original Danish version to witness how many elements Sheridan borrowed in his adaptation, but considering I've never seen Brodre, I'm left to judge the merits of Brothers as a stand-alone production. In that regard, this stateside release combines excellent performances from the entire cast, sure-handed direction courtesy of Jim Sheridan, and a plot that never fails to delight and repulse. I'd recommend the film to anyone who has the stomach for the subject matter, though I'd understand if the intensity of the film is a bit too much for some viewers.
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Brothers Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Brothers Blu-ray Announced - January 27, 2010
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced 'Brothers' for Blu-ray release on March 23. This drama, directed by Jim Sheridan, tells the story of how two brothers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire) come to terms with issues of love, loyalty and manhood with the ...
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