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Directed by Jim Sheridan
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The new entry in this year’s Academy Awards race isn’t new at all; it’s the American remake – almost shot by shot -- of the 2004 film written and directed by the Danish director Susanne Bier, also called “Brothers,” and although I normally frown on remakes, I think it shows just how well American actors can do. It’s the story of two brothers from a typical small town. One of them, Sam – played by Tobey Maguire – is a captain in the Marines who’s just being sent to Afghanistan. His brother Tommy, played by Jake Gyllenhaal – has been the family screwup, and as the film begins, has just been released from prison.
Sam is married to Grace, an amazing performance by Natalie Portman, and has two little girls, while Tommy lives under the disapproving comments of his father, the ex-marine Hank, played by the playwright Sam Shepard. Then the family gets the news that Sam has been killed in Afghanistan, though the film quickly tells us that he’s actually been captured by the Taliban. While everyone in the family thinks Sam is dead, Tommy begins to help Grace around the house, and makes a wonderful relationship with her two girls. The film cuts back and forth between Tommy and Grace, on the one hand, and the tortures Sam undergoes as a captive.
Then Sam is rescued by the Americans, but he’s been brutally changed by what he’s undergone; and he comes home with what you have to call an extreme case of PTSD, and everything that he’d had before – everything that he’d been before -- is gone.
“Brothers” tells us what happens then, but what is the most memorable part of the film is the extraordinary acting by Gyllenhaal, Maguire and Portman. Director Jim Sheridan, who’d made “In America” and the wonderful “My Left Foot,” has managed to get mesmerizing performances from his three actors. “Brothers” is hard to sit through, particularly after last week’s announcement by President Obama that he’s sending thirty thousand more troops to Afghanistan, but it’s become essential viewing.