“Brothers” tells the powerful story of two siblings, thirty-something Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and younger brother Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal), who are polar opposites. A Marine about to embark on his fourth tour of duty, Sam is a steadfast family man married to his high school sweetheart, the aptly named Grace (Natalie Portman), with whom he has two young daughters. Tommy, his charismatic younger brother, is a drifter just out of jail who’s always gotten by on wit and charm. When his Black Hawk helicopter is shot down in the mountains Sam is presumed dead and the Cahill family suddenly faces a shocking void. Tommy tries to fill in for his brother by assuming newfound responsibility for himself, Grace, and the children. In the grief and strangeness of their new lives, Grace and Tommy are naturally drawn together. Their longstanding frostiness dissolves, but both are frightened and ashamed of the mutual attraction that has replaced it.
This is a powerful story which gets into the head of a soldier who is tortured in Afghanistan and who returns home a changed man. He is the father of two girls and one of his daughters is frightened of him when he returns, sensing the change and the boiling pot he has become. He accuses his wife of having an affair with his brother while he was gone, although he was believed dead and nothing more than a kiss occurred, which his wife immediately stopped. In addition, he committed an act while captured that he can’t forgive himself for.
Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal are excellent in their roles as brothers Sam and Tommy. Tommy is released from prison in the beginning of the story and his father rides him about being more like his older brother, and Marine, Sam. In an ironic twist, following his dreadful experience in Afghanistan, the two seem to reverse roles as Sam becomes temperamental and Tommy becomes more responsible. Natalie Portman also hits the right notes as Sam’s wife, who has loved him since she was a sixteen-year-old cheerleader and Sam was quarterback of the high school football team.
The film has a dramatic tension to it and illustrates how people can change, but it is loaded with strong language and the violence too is a bit much. In addition, there is a scene in which two characters smoke marijuana so we regret we cannot award the movie our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal.