Whether you agree or disagree with the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, there is no refuting it takes a special level of courage for the men and women who risk their lives to fight. There is also no refuting the toll their absences take on their families and loved ones. Brothers shows how the decision (or obligation) to fight for your country can lead to personal and familial destruction.


Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is sent back to Afghanistan for another tour of duty at the behest of his loving wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and his two happy daughters. Prior to leaving, his younger brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), is released from prison and begins his attempt at maturity and personal growth. After hearing of a crash that results in Sam’s death, Tommy takes it upon himself to do right by the brother he loved and look after his family. As Tommy becomes closer to Sam’s family, we find out Sam is alive and held captive. He is rescued and returns home a changed man who is now forced to readjust to his home life despite what happened.

Brothers brings many emotionally tough situations to the forefront of the public image of the wars and how they are discussed in the film industry. The idea, first mentioned by The Hurt Locker, that war becomes all-encompassing is given more credence. Sam becomes so accustomed to life in Afghanistan that he views it as a second home. Even after finally returning home, Sam’s beliefs are intensified and he tries to leave again. This erodes the relationships he has with the ones he loved so much.

What Brothers shows excellently is how difficult it is for the families of these soldiers to communicate and reintegrate their loved ones into normalcy again. Bailee Madison (Just Go With It) plays Sam’s eldest daughter, Isabelle, perfectly. When Sam returns, Isabelle freely admits that she doesn’t like her father anymore. He is no longer the same man and she is too young to accept this reality. Madison does an excellent job showing the apprehension and fear a child would have at not being able to recognize their own parent after a traumatic experience.

With regards to the film industry portrayal of Brothers, there was a giant misfire in the advertising campaign. The trailer, even the posters, advertises this movie as a struggle between brothers over a woman and the accusations of betrayal. While this is in fact a part of the film, it is by no means a driving force behind the plot or the characters’ motivations. Sam accuses Grace and Tommy of sleeping with one another, but as we find out more about his fragile psyche, it is more of an attempt to sabotage his personal life in order to return to Afghanistan. The sexual aspect of the film is completely unnecessary, and solely used as a selling point to help the public disregard the massive psychological toll inflicted by a war experience.

I would be remiss to not give Tobey Maguire his accolades for giving everything he had for this film. Apart from gaining and losing large amounts of weight, Maguire finds a way to portray Sam’s instability in facial features that are absolutely insane. As a viewer you feel frightened simply looking into his eyes and are forced onto the edge of your seat waiting for Sam to completely break down. He and Madison are the biggest reasons to see the film.

Brothers is intense. It is awkward. It is frightening in the sense that you worry for the characters’ lives. The end leaves you wondering how anyone could survive that mess as a functional familial unit. After seeing someone you love break down, where do you go from there?

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