As is usually the case with American remakes of critically acclaimed foreign films, Jim Sheridan's Brothers, based on the 2004 Danish film of the same name by Susanne Bier, is a let down from the original. Where Bier's film is a taut, wrenchful modern tragedy, never going so far as to seem manipulative, Sheridan's remake is inevitably made with a more crocodile sense of emotionality. A loud, more abrasive American style if you will but at the same time an almost listless film without much direction. Perhaps this is to play on American's obsessions with the faux catharsis of reality TV (though other countries have such obsessions too) or maybe it is just a way to hedge the studio's bets and make sure the actor's have a handy dandy Oscar clip come awards season. Whatever the case may be, Sheridan's version never reaches the strengths that made Bier's film work on multiple levels of melodrama and tragedy, instead palpitating to the lowest common denominator of such melodramatic tragedy, and in turn divebombing into the mediocrity that makes up much of modern Hollywood moviemaking.
Telling the story of a war widow (played with a wistful melancholy by the usually more daring Natalie Portman) who's husband (Tobey Maguire, smirking his way through caricature as usual) is killed in action and her eventual falling for the husband's ne'er-do-well brother (Jake Gyllanhaal in the only truly honest seeming performance of the bunch). The major problem pops up when Maguire's thought-dead husband is found alive and not so well in a Middle Eastern P.O.W. camp. Once Maguire's now-crazy Captain gets back from the Hell of war, Sheridan's film, which up until now has been nothing much more than a tired and quite unrealistic love story of sorts, should explode with an energy that saves the quickly faltering motion picture. Unfortunately, Maguire's queerly nuanced head case seems like more of a joke than anything to get excited over. Perhaps it is the fact that Maguire seemed like a nut job before he ever left for war and therefore shouldn't be seen as much of a surprising mental case once he returns. There is certainly an intensity in Maguire's lid-flipping third act tirades and rampages, but in Maguire's hands, and in his boyishly psychotic face, it all seems just so comical as to lose all of its passion.
Now one cannot expect an Americanized remake to have the power or subtlety of its original European version, and one cannot expect Portman to be able to give a performance like her Danish doppelganger Connie Neilsen did in Bier's film (a bravura piece of acting indeed), so perhaps one should not be so hard on Sheridan's cloying revision. Amongst the middlebrow affectations (Sheridan's In America, though a better film than this, had many of the same problems) there are some strong moments throughout this film. After all, there are moments in this film - from all three actors (even Maguire) - that keep the film from falling too deep into its own gaping hole. Gyllenhaal, though riddled with cliche, hands in a strongly brave performance and even Maguire, through his shit-eating grin has a moment or two of believable chutzpah. Unfortunately, these rare moments flail about within the surrounding stereotypical plot points and thus get lost in the mire of Sheridan's soft cell filmmaking technique. In the end, all we are really left with is just another mediocre remake of a much more powerful foreign film. [12/21/09]