Brothers: A Powerful Exploration of Family and Redemption

Brothers: A Powerful Exploration of Family and Redemption

Presented by Lionsgate and Relativity Media, Brothers is a 2009 war drama that delves into emotional and relatable matters of love, adversity, morality, and forgiveness. An American adaptation of an award-winning Danish film, Brothers received primarily positive reviews and numerous accolades for its updated portrayal of a family shaken to its core by the realities of war. Critics including Roger Ebert praised the depth of the film’s themes, which reach beyond the conflicts of war and marriage to touch on the internal battles fought within each person. Critics also lauded the strength of the script and the moving performances given by an impressive all-star cast.

The Story

brothersmovieposterMarine Captain Sam Cahill and his younger brother Tommy Cahill have always been polar opposites. Sam is steadfast and dependable, loved by his wife Grace and their two young daughters, and well-respected among his fellow service members. Tommy has always been the less stable of the two brothers, and his frequent run-ins with the law have garnered the resentment of the brothers’ father, a former Marine.

Just as Tommy returns home from serving a prison sentence for robbery, Sam departs on the latest of many military deployments to Afghanistan. Soon after, his family receives the news they’ve long dreaded: the military has presumed Sam dead following a helicopter crash. As Grace and her children navigate this tragedy, Tommy steps up to play a more supportive role in the family, adopting a newfound sense of responsibility in his brother’s absence.

But just as quickly, the Cahill family’s reality changes again. Sam did not die, but instead fell into the hands of the Taliban, who subjected him to unimaginable torture. When he returns, he can muster little joy or affection after the trauma he has experienced. He is withdrawn, cold, and, above all, suspicious that his wife and brother have become romantically involved. With the dynamic of their family drastically changed, the Cahills struggle to return to normalcy as emotions threaten to boil over.

The Inspiration

The Brothers screenplay is the work of David Benioff, the writer behind popular films including The Kite Runner (2007) and Troy (2004). However, the film is actually an American adaptation of Brødre (2004), a Danish film by writer-director Susanne Bier. Starring Connie Nielsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and Ulrich Thomsen, the movie received five nominations at Denmark’s annual Bodil Awards, with Nielsen taking home Best Actress. The film also earned accolades at international events including the Hamburg Film Festival, European Film Awards, and the Cannes Film Festival.

The Stars

Tobey Maguire
Image by Eva Rinaldi | Flickr

The incredible ensemble cast of Brothers features Tobey Maguire as Sam Cahill, a role which grants him the opportunity to showcase his skills as a dramatic actor. Although Maguire is well-known for more lighthearted performances in Pleasantville (1998) and Spider-Man (2002), he received critical acclaim for his turn in Brothers. Roger Ebert remarked that Brothers “becomes Tobey Maguire’s film to dominate,” remarking, “Actors possess a great gift to surprise us, if they find the right material in their hands.”

Co-starring as younger brother Tommy Cahill is Jake Gyllenhaal, who has earned acclaim for performances in a diverse array of films. After his breakout role in the cult classic Donnie Darko (2001), Gyllenhaal starred in films including The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Jarhead (2005), and Zodiac (2007), and garnered an Oscar nomination for his performance in the 2005 drama Brokeback Mountain.

Internationally renowned actress Natalie Portman rounds out the cast as Grace Cahill. At the time of the film’s release, Portman had drawn critical acclaim for a varied filmography including Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Closer (2004), and V for Vendetta (2006). Since then, she won her first Academy Award for her starring performance in Black Swan (2010).

The Filmmakers

While Brothers’ script and source material promised a challenging and emotional endeavor for its stars, the involvement of director Jim Sheridan played a large role in attracting the film’s coveted talent. A six-time Oscar-nominated writer, director, and producer, Sheridan has skillfully explored the human condition in moving character dramas such as My Left Foot (1989), The Boxer (1997), In the Name of the Father (1993), and In America (2002), and drew on his refined ability to portray powerful emotions in Brothers. A veteran of the stage, the former playwright, theatre director, and actor took an extremely hands-on approach in encouraging convincing performances from his stars. As recalled by Natalie Portman, “Jim was very emotionally involved—he sort of played every character.”

To help match the film’s visuals to its stirring script, Sheridan worked with well-known cinematographer Fred Elmes. Through the carefully planned use of camera movement and color schemes, Elmes strived to match the characters’ increasingly turbulent story arcs through the film’s visual style. Although Brothers marked Sheridan’s first collaboration with Elmes, the cinematographer has lent his creative eye to such noteworthy projects as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), Bill Condon’s Kinsey (2004), and Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm (1997).

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