3 Stars - Powerful
Though simply titled “Brothers,” Jim Sheridan’s film is far more complicated than its title implies. This is a film about two brothers and the complex bond that male siblings experience. But it is also a film about the effects of generational dysfunction, the trauma of war, the psychological effects of kidnapping and torture, as well as the impact of war on military marriages and families. Other themes of the film include the competitive insecurities of two brothers who fall in love with the same woman, and the need for confession in order for forgiveness and resolution to be possible.
The two brothers follow common family roles identified by therapists. The first-born, Capt. Sam Cahill (Toby McGuire), is the hero of the family. The quarterback of his high school football team, Sam is his father Hank’s (Sam Shepherd) obvious favorite. This is only reinforced when Sam chooses a career in the Marines, following in his father’s footsteps. But Sam’s war experiences in Afghanistan impair his ability to be an effective, loving father just as his father’s war experiences in Vietnam had done decades earlier.
The second-born son, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), is the family rebel. Growing up in the shadow of his heroic brother, Tommy turns in the opposite direction and ends up in prison after attempting to rob his small town’s bank. Labeled “a quitter” by his father, Tommy has little reason to develop maturity or responsibility until tragedy strikes.
The climax of the brothers’ relationship occurs after the news is received that Sam has been killed in battle and Tommy steps in to care for Sam’s widow Grace (Natalie Portman) and her two daughters Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare). Well intentioned, the relationship meets longings in both Tommy and Grace in predictable ways. When Sam is found alive and rescued by American forces, his return home is troubled, not only because of his jealousy of Tommy’s relationship with his wife and daughters, but also because of his guilt over his behavior while in captivity.
A rich film with excellent acting and character development, this powerful portrayal of family life impacted by war is a valuable insight for all of us.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
McGuire’s brooding portrayal of the older brother Sam allows us to experience the price he was paying to be the hero of the family. Do you believe he was following his own path or was he scripted by his father as Tommy accuses?
The fact that Tommy and Grace were not intimate does not change the reality that they had fallen in love. Do you believe it is possible for Grace to return her heart to Sam?
When Grace tells Major Cavazos (Clifton Collins, Jr.) that she cannot “feel” Sam’s death, Cavazos assumes that it is just denial. Do you believe we can “feel” a loved one’s death even if we are not near them? Why do you answer as you do?