Brothers
The problem Jake is that I only date superheroes and Jedi.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/04/2009
Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Clifton Collins Jr., Bailee Madison, Sam Shepard, Mare Winningham, Taylor Geare, Patrick Flueger, Carey Mulligan

Hollywood loves remakes. They come with their own built-in audience and utilizing an already proven property (whether via nostalgia or an internationally/critically acclaimed foreign film) takes all that nasty originality out of the process that requires risk taking by those making the decisions and ponying up the cash.

The latest re-imagining is “Brothers”, based on the tremendous Danish film of the same name by Susanne Bier, which was released in 2004 … wait, 2004??? We’re remaking films that quickly now? I can kind of understand updating something made for a previous generation but this one’s isn’t old enough to ride roller coasters, let alone get a face lift. (And if you were a fan of 2008′s best vampire movie, and I mean that in every way possible, “Let the Right One In“, then get set for the remake which has already begun filming and is set to release in 2010.)

But in any case, what’s done is done and I’ll first address the film without comparison and then satisfy myself with what is or isn’t done better the second time around.

First off, it should be noted that this isn’t a shiny, happy film. Tobey Maguire plays a Captain in the Marines, shot down in Afghanistan and held captive, thought dead by his wife (Connie Nielson), kids, brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) and parents – who all cope in different ways. Since it’s in the trailer, I don’t feel I’m spoiling things by saying he does return home and it’s at this point that some of the more explosive and emotional elements come into play as trying to reassimilate into the family proves to be anything but easy.

Where “Brothers” succeeds is in not sugar coating the ordeals that everyone goes through. Each actor, whether child or adult, struggle to accept and understand the situations they are forced to deal with. Gyllenhaal’s character undergoes a complete change in his approach to life, finally taking responsibility for himself and others. Portman first must grieve for a dead husband and then help guide the resurrected Maguire back into their lives. The kids find that the changes Dad went through while on duty aren’t all for the best. And Maguire himself must wrestle with the emotional demons inside of him which stem from his time in captivity and the effects of his absence on his family.

The biggest downsides to the film (on its own merits) lie in the casting. Gyllenhaal does fine but the other two leads presented significant moments where I didn’t see the sincerity in their approach. Maguire seemed distracted or absent-minded often when he should have been conveying guilt or shame. And Portman wasn’t able to sell the nuances required to navigate the complicated relationship that develops between her and Gyllenhaal while Maguire is out of the picture.

Director Jim Sheridan stayed very true to the original film’s story and was able to capture the general mood of that film and the script is also extremely close to the original but that might have been some of the problem for the actors. Lines delivered in Danish and read via subtitles come across with different shades of emotion that seem to fit better than they did here; though part of that may have to do with the age gap in the set of actors between films as it seems like they dropped about 10 years for each of the main actors in the new version.

Getting on to why I think anyone interested in the story is better off getting a copy of the original film on DVD, one of the fundamental problems with the film is that in its change for western audiences, all of the nuances that Susanne Bier were able to evoke are lost. This is the brute force version of the story and it loses so much of the subtlety and sorrowful beauty from the original. Maguire’s character is dealing with a lot and the only element that came through was a psychotic, detached rage, not so much the underlying guilt and fundamental cause for such an extreme change in his mental state.

As mentioned, the dynamic between Portman and Gyllenhaal’s characters isn’t fully developed in the new version. Also, I thought that the actresses playing the two daughters in the original were much better able to clearly show what emotion was supposed to be delivered during any particular scene; While Bailee Madison does a particularly nice job during one of the film’s more powerful moments while the entire family is having dinner and emotions come to a head, often I was confused if she was sad or angry or happy, as her facial expressions would change from line to line.

I realize that most of this review has been knocking the new version down and unfortunately, that’s just a byproduct of being so enamored with the original and should factor into your consideration of this new version should you not have been trolling art house theaters in 2004. Overall, the film does hold up and if foreign language films aren’t your forte, then by all means check out “Brothers” which I’ll give a 3.5 out of 5. Hopefully though, you’ll be interested enough to see the differences to rent Susanne Bier’s original film either before or after in an effort to make your own comparison since the only opinion that matters is your own – even though I’m 100% correct all of the time :) .