Picture from DaemonsMovies.com
Director Jim Sheridan and the cast of the film Brothers probably did not expect that when their film was released it would be three days after President Barack Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan.
Sheridan and the rest involved could not have known that a story involving a Marine (Tobey Maguire) being pulled away from his wife and two daughters would have an extraordinary amount of resonance based on recent decisions made by the Obama Administration.
To be fair, this film is not a war film or an anti-war film if you ask the producers. It is a remake of a Danish film called BrÃ¸dre, which follows two brothers--- Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal). It is a drama about a family dealing with pain and grief in a time of war.
Through two brothers, we see what it is like for one to go off to war, we see what it is like to struggle emotionally with the loss of a loved one who has died in war, and we see what it is like to deal with a loved one who has returned home from war.
The family is the quintessential American military family. Sam Cahill was an athlete in high school who married a cheerleader, Grace (Natalie Portman). His father was in the military and served in Vietnam. And, it would appear that his father (Sam Shepard) pushed his children through verbal and physical abuse (a result of PTSD he suffered after Vietnam) to follow in his footsteps.
Tommy, however, did not become the man his father hoped for. He took a wrong path and ended up in prison. And, when it comes time for Sam to deploy, he is doubtful and bothered by Sam's decision to cooperate and go to Afghanistan.
Each character's deep inner personal conflict speaks to the many conflicts that American society faces whether that reality is patently obvious to American society or not.
Grace must deal with the problems of resuming life after the death of a husband. She must confront the horror of raising children alone because their father was killed overseas. And, before the film is over, she must find a way to invite her husband who she thought was dead back into her life, she must console and struggle with a traumatized man whose experiences in Afghanistan have numbed his soul.
Tommy must find a way to fill the shoes of someone who left, someone who he wished would not have deployed but he saw his family push him to deploy. And he did what he could to communicate his reservations but he couldn't stop his brother from going to Afghanistan.
The two daughters must grow up without a father. They could either become vengeful because of the loss of their father or they could learn why he went to Afghanistan and question why he went off to war. And, when Sam returns home, they must hide and be afraid because they can see beneath the surface of Sam. They can tell their daddy isn't the daddy that used to hug and kiss them goodnight; he is now someone else.
Sam's father initially must grapple with loss of a son who he pushed to join the military. He must defend what his son did for his country. And then, when he returns, he recalls his memories of post-Vietnam and fears Sam will have the same emotional dysfunctions he had when he returned. So, he fears the worst and hopes to prevent Sam from hurting his children like he did when he came back from war.
Sam must confront the reality of war. Captured in Afghanistan, he must struggle to maintain his honor. He must live the fallacy that he is protecting his country and he must fight off insurgents who do not like that the U.S. is present in their country.
Tortured and brutalized by insurgents, he must go to the dark side to return home to family. And when he returns home to family, he must find a way to contain his personal demons, demons he saw take over his soul while he was captured in Afghanistan.
And, he must find a way to stop worrying about getting back to his men in Afghanistan. He must begin to live for the family that thought he was gone.
The film owes most of its tension and drama to the pitch-perfect acting of its main characters and the incredible sincerity of the child actors who play the two daughters in the movie.