A Bad Coming Home


04 December 2009| No Comments on Brothers     by Sean Chavel


Phony, and veterans of war will likely find this movie even more phony. Brothers strains for an accessible way to teach the audience something about PTSD, that disorder that has plagued soldiers coming home from Iraq. The main crux of the movie is a carefully positioned moral crisis. Tobey Maguire is the soldier presumed dead in Afghanistan. Jake Gyllenhaal is the ex-con brother who watches over Maguire’s wife, Natalie Portman. Physical sparks happen between Gyllenhaal and Portman, and then, guilt and finger-pointing.

Every scene of the movie is designed so it builds to the point that a featured actor has an outburst, or an implosive spurt of tears, or an agonized look on their face by the end of the scene. While the chemistry is initially cold, a scene on an ice-rink with amped-up hip music informs us that Gyllenhaal and Portman are falling for each other. They vow to keep things non-physical, for perhaps the time-being, and Gyllenhaal remodels her kitchen.

In regards to the scenes in Afghanistan, things crash dramatically when Maguire and a fellow soldier are taken prisoner by Taliban fighters. The two prisoners are placed down in a hole where they are starved. To prompt audience reaction as to how cruel the Taliban is, an executioner caps a plug in another Afghani, and it is so merciless and cold that the movie is trying to get you into shivers. But all I could think is: Why did they shoot that man other than so the movie to conveniently dictate that the Taliban is cruel?

The Taliban do other cruel things to the prisoners, but it’s Maguire, as Captain Sam Cahill, who crosses over to show us how bug-eyed and crazy he is capable of looking. If the movie doesn’t exactly wrench your emotions, you are marginally concerned at best as to whether he will get to return home or not (you see him as a movie character, not as a person). If Sam ever does reunite with his daughters, they might run the other way and not recognize daddy (actors love the range of doing light to dark transformations where they are unrecognizable in the latter). Gyllenhaal, as Uncle Tommy, is maturing into a fine man with no ex-con stink on him anymore (after two months) except that he’s attracted to his brother’s wife Grace (Portman) which by definition is a dangerous attraction.

As directed by Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot” his career highlight), he concentrates to extraneous lengths to give his actors dramatic lighting, often blocking his actors so that they walk into a ray of light to symbolize a quasi-dramatic epiphany. None of the actors are as spectacular as some Oscar forecasters lead you to believe, but Maguire has got enough of that deadly thousand yard stare that might spook you enough into goosebumps. He makes you believe that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common problem among vets, but by this point, a movie that goes more into the long effects of PTSD is what needs to be made.

105 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Coming Home” (1978); “Legends of the Fall” (1994); “Brodre” (2004, Denmark); “Closer” (2004).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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