Thursday, January 21, 2010


You Ain't Heavy

A remake of the Danish film Brodre, what this version boasts is the star presence of Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular brothers Sam and Tommy Cahill, with Natalie Portman starring as the former's wife Grace, in what would be some powerful dramatic performances delivered by all three actors in a story that deals with the pain of loss, the exhilaration of purpose, love and family, and the confusion that comes when jealousy starts to creep in a relationship no thanks to the presence of another man in one's home.

Tobey Maguire plays Captain Sam Cahill, who is bidding his family of wife Grace and kids Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare) farewell before he ships out for his tour of duty in Afghanistan. A well respected Marine, he's actually looking forward to this return to the war zone (talk about that addiction to war last seen in The Hurt Locker) to fulfil his belief in the fight for freedom to keep America safe, and is the pride of his parents Hank (Sam Shepard) and Elsie (Mare Winningham) as compared to his good for nothing brother Tommy who's just released from prison, and bumming around to find what he could do when he's out in society.

Then comes the tragic news that Sam's Blackhawk helicopter went crashing down into a river, and the devastation that event had on the surviving family members. This of course provided director Jim Sheridan to cover some pseudo-Afghanistan war scenes and making some statements about the war on terror, but also allowed for Portman and Shepard to showcase their acting chops, in particular Portman as you can feel that level of pain with the sudden cutting short of a young person's life, and of course the reverse when excellent, unbelievable news came her way.

Brothers is an excellent character study piece which both Maguire and Gyllenhaal fleshed out their roles in stark contrast toward each other and the drawing of parallels in their characters as the film progressed. One's calm and collected, but affected by recent experiences in guilt and blame to finally explode in “Bale Out” style, while the other's laissez-faire approach to life suddenly found some purpose when he subconsciously took it upon himself to look after his brother's family, so much so that it borders extremely close to that of being a surrogate husband and substitute father figure, yet endearing himself to the family as he grows into a better, likeable person. It is this constant, tense “will he or won't he” questioning that will keep you engaged in the film, and then again with the pivotal turning point that will introduce elements of jealousy and needless suspicion into a relationship.

There are plenty of memorable scenes in this film, which I thought made it stand out amongst the crowd. One involves all the principal characters gathering over the dinner table in conversation, and the dynamics of everything, and I mean everything, was magic, from how the scene was shot, edited and especially down to the roles that the kids play, with kids Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare almost always stealing the thunder from the veteran actors with their antics.

Granted that the assumption of death and how it screws up a relationship is nothing new (heck, even Michael Bay found time to squeeze it into his action packed Pearl Harbor), it boiled down to the excellent performances all round to deliver an emotionally powerful film. You'll feel that intense fury and worry when the film hits its crescendo, and for that alone it's worth the price of an admission ticket. Highly recommended!

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