Brothers (C)

Brothers opens Friday, and if the buzz is any indication, I expect it will receive good reviews. The performances by Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Sam Shepard are, in fact, quite good. But although I expect to be in a minority (again!), I really didn’t like this film. For me, it had a weak script, poor editing and particularly bad directing.

Spoiler Alert: We saw the film with no advance knowledge of the plot. But the trailers I’ve seen since the screening give away one important plot element. So if you want the film to be a complete surprise, read no further. (And avoid the trailers.)

Brothers is the story of a soldier who returns from Afghanistan with PTSD after his family thought he’d been killed in action. It could be illuminating and even inspiring, but it’s neither. Instead, it’s predictable and filled with clichés. The actors play their roles well, but they’re ultimately just stereotypes. When the plot takes a turn, it’s usually in a direction a novice writer would take. When the scenes are dramatic, they’re nothing we haven’t seen before.

I mentioned the weakness of the editing and directing, and looking back at director Jim Sheridan‘s work, maybe this isn’t too surprising. One gripe is how he handles the lightweight happy-family scenes contrasted with the serious drama of PTSD. The lightweight stuff is so lightweight as to be fluffy and corny, complete with happy music. These scenes just obliterate the drama. Okay, I get it. Now we’re happy, and next things are awful. Where’s the subtlety?

The cutting suffers in the same way. The two very young daughters are played by good actresses, but the director and editor are so enamored with them that the movie almost grinds to a halt when they’re on screen. The same is also true to a lesser extent with Natalie Portman, who does a fine job on her own. Even in the midst of the most-serious scenes, the camera lingers on the girls a little too long — just by a second or so. The effect is that rather than giving us important reaction shots, the plot actually changes to focus on them. Then, when we cut back to the older characters, there’s a feeling of being yanked back into the story, which hasn’t really stopped. The kids are great, but they need to be used carefully and more sparingly.

Like I say, I’m prepared for the critics and public to herald this as some great film of the year, but not for me.

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