A few years ago, Danish director Susanne Bier, together with scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, made a film that showed the devastating effect of war on a family through the lens of two very different brothers. As well observed as it was harrowing, the movie follows the tumultuous relationship of ambitious army officer Michael, who comes home from a UN mission in Afghanistan psychologically destroyed after being forced to make an immoral decision in combat, and ne’er-do-well Jannik (Ulrich Thomsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas in stellar form).
Now, Brødre has been remade. Irish director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) might have a nice indie track record, but he manages to nail every single Hollywood cliché with Brothers. In addition to the unavoidable back story, complete with a tacked-on conflict between slacker brother (Gyllenhaal) and his Vietnam veteran dad, and some unbearably syrupy scenes featuring the cute precocious daughter, Brothers makes the mistake of transplanting its protagonists to a military community.
Maguire as war returnee Sam Cahill struggles mightily, but dialogue written for a family man returning to a civil society that is hardly ever touched by war makes no sense for a man from a military family returning to the housing area of an army base, where war and its effects are part of the very fabric of the community. It all goes downhill from there, and perhaps most detrimental of all, Portman can’t hold a candle to Connie Nielsen, who played Michael’s wife with an intensity that was breathtaking.
For anyone who has seen Brødre, Brothers is intolerably presumptuous. For anyone who hasn’t, Brødre is available on DVD with English subtitles.
BROTHERS | Jim Sheridan (USA 2009) with Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman. Starts January 27