First of all, if you come from a military family, try to pay attention to the movie and avoid drawing any random parallels to your own life and experiences. I did this the whole way through the movie, which is ultimately what the filmmakers want. I’m not saying that I melted into a puddle of emotion (because I’m dead inside and that would never happen), but it did make me think…
I found that all of the trailers that you see for Brothers pretty much tells you the story of the film, but that’s not a bad thing. Sam (Tobey Maguire) and Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) are brothers who are polar opposites—Sam is on the straight and narrow path of a Marine Captain who is on his way back to Afghanistan for a third tour. He has a strong pull towards his wife and kids as well as his career. He is a dependable and respected pillar of his family. Tommy, on the other hand, is an ex-con who has recently been released from prison and is trying to get his life back together. Tommy and his father (Sam Shepard) are at odds on almost everything, with his father always comparing the brothers... and Tommy always coming out on the bottom of the pile. Even with the dysfunction, the Sam and Tommy have a strong relationship and are there for each other. This relationship gets tested big time.
When Sam is on a mission in Afghanistan, his helicopter is shot down and he is taken captive. For months, he and another soldier are put through torture, both mental and physical, which ultimately changes Sam in a very dark way. During this time, Sam is declared dead and, back at home, his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) is left to go on with out him and raise their two young children. (Is Natalie Portman old enough to have two children, one of which is around the age of 10?)
Grace has a lot of difficulty getting past the idea that Sam is dead and falls into deep depression. This is when Tommy steps in—he starts coming around to help out with the girls; he’s the doting uncle that is able to be goofy with the kids. As time goes by, he and Grace slowly get to know each other. But just as they are starting to get closer, and after a brief moment of solace, news has is received that Sam has been rescued and is returning home. But once Sam is back, it's clear that he’s not the same man and it’s very noticeable. PTSD is in full swing and running wild in Sam’s head. Sam also makes immediate assumption that things went a different way (between his brother and wife) back at the homestead than what actually happened. But not that things weren’t headed in that general direction...
What really works for this film is the completely believable and complicated relationships of the characters. Maguire, Portman and Gyllenhall exercise their acting chops in this wartime drama and make the film almost impossible to look away from.
[Also read our review of the original Danish film Brothers (Brødre), upon which this film is based.]