Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman star in Jim Sheridans remake of Susanne Biers "Brodre".
That, my friends, is an impressive list of names.
Gyllenhaal has appeared in three of my favourite films of the recent past ("Donnie Darko", "Brokeback Mountain" and "Zodiac"), Portman was absolutely wonderful in "V For Vendetta" and Maguire was "Spiderman"...in director Jim Sheridan you have a man with some real quality on his CV too; "My Left Foot", "In the Name of the Father" and "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" (that one is a joke).
With that much quality on display you are entitled to have high expectations and it wouldn't be unreasonable to have them met. However, something doesn't work here. It has a strong source material to build on, it has fine young actors in all the key parts, the director has previous and yet, somehow, it fails to quite hit the mark.
The story is simple and Sheridan does a good job of keeping it so...Sam (Tobey Maguire) is married to Grace (Natalie Portman) and is preparing to head to Afghanistan as a Marine Corp Captain. At the same time his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is released from prison. Within days of arriving in Afghanistan Sams helicopter crashes and with his death Tommy and Grace draw ever closer. There is a problem though...Sam isn't dead; he's been taken hostage by Afghans and eventually he is brought home forcing Grace and Tommy apart.
It's emotional stuff and everybody does a good job of not making it overly sentimental. The relationship between Gyllenhaal and Portman is certainly believable and the devastating impact of his experiences at war are played with real power by Maguire. But I didn't ever feel like I was connecting with what was going on. Perhaps that was because it did, at times, feel as if this was being made somewhat by numbers...it lacked genuine heart?
The impact of war on a mans psyche is better explored in last years "The Hurt Locker" and without the need to throw in a love triangle. In fact the scenes in Afghanistan are perhaps the least realistic and the most jarring. I would have been happier had we simply learned about Maguires experience (which I can't say too much about without spoiling) and have him return to home to his family. The cartoonish Afghan rebels/Taliban and the inability to really invest the time in that part of the story means that it doesn't sit well.
A good film that could have been, I think, a great film.