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Laramie Movie Scope: Brothers

A tale of two brothers

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 6, 2009 -- “Brothers” is an intense drama about an experience that threatens to destroy a man's very soul. It contains one of the most dramatic, suspenseful, emotionally-charged scenes of the year. Despite that, it isn't over the top or melodramatic. That is a rare thing in movies these days.

Tobey Maguire of “Spider-Man” stars as Captain Sam Cahill, a soldier who is the favored son of retired soldier Hank Cahill (played by Sam Shepard of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) and husband of pretty Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman of “V for Vendetta”) and father of two bright young girls, Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare). He has a lot to live for and will need every bit of that incentive to stay alive in Afghanistan after he is captured by the Taliban. He is forced to do terrible things to stay alive, things so terrible he cannot admit them to anyone after he is freed from his captors. The demons in his mind are destroying him, and his family in the process.

While he was in captivity, Cahill's brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal of “Rendition”), recently released from prison, helps care for his brother's family in Sam's absence. Sam is mistakenly listed as among those killed in action in Afghanistan during a helicopter crash and his family assumes he is dead. Tommy and his friends remodel Grace's kitchen. Tommy also plays with the kids and comforts Grace. One night, Tommy and Grace kiss. Shortly after that, Sam is freed and returns home. He suspects something has been going on between Grace and Tommy. This suspicion weighs on Sam's already unstable mind. Sam is not the same man who left. He has become unstable and easily loses his temper. His own wife and children are afraid of him.

Much of this story is familiar. You have the father who loves one son, but is ashamed of the other. Tommy blames his father for his brother's supposed death, filling Sam's head with a lot of military and patriotic nonsense. Tommy represents the Hollywood view of the war in this movie, while Sam and Hank represent the Red States. When Sam yells at Grace, he asks her “Do you know what I had to do to get back to you?” He might be saying the same to all those who oppose the war, namely, “Do you know what I had to do for God and country to keep all of you safe?” The sacrifices of this war are many and have fallen on too few shoulders. This is the movie's unspoken underlying conflict, two radically different views of the war in Afghanistan. This is not an intellectual conflict, but an emotional one, and it plays out in an extremely intense scene.

The acting in this film is superb, and that includes the two precocious child actors, even though they have to say some very un-childlike dialogue. Tobey Maguire, whose acting was not up to par in “Spider-Man 3,” brings his acting game up to a whole new level in this film. He just might get an Oscar nomination for this performance. The oft-disrespected Natalie Portman does a fine job as the conflicted wife. The direction and production values are very good, but the story does seem to end a bit abruptly. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)