A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this mature drama (which stars Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, and Jake Gyllenhaal) about how the horrors of war affect both a soldier and his grieving family has several disturbing scenes of war, torture, and even domestic disputes -- making it far too intense for tweens and even younger teens. The war sequences involve atrocities, near-suicide, and two startling killings that are chillingly realistic; strong language includes frequent use of words like "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and the like. Sexuality isn't too graphic, but there are a few passionate kisses and one shot of an obviously undressed, quilt-covered couple in bed.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Based on the award-winning Danish film Brodre, BROTHERS is a family saga starring Tobey Maguire as U.S. Marine captain Sam Cahill and Jake Gyllenhaal as his younger brother, Tommy, who has just gotten out of prison. Sam is deployed to Afghanistan, where his combat team's helicopter crashes in enemy territory. He and a private survive, only to be captured and tortured for months. Since the Marines don't know there were any survivors, Sam's wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), is notified that she's now a widow -- and that her two young girls are without a father. Tommy begins to spend a lot of time with Grace and her girls; one night, he and Grace share a grief- and alcohol-fueled kiss. Meanwhile, Sam is forced to commit an unthinkable act of cruelty before he's eventually rescued by American soldiers. But the agony waiting back home may even be worse.
Is it any good?
Director Jim Sheridan is no stranger to intense family dramas -- the Irish filmmaker (In the Name of the Father, In America) seems like a natural choice to adapt Susanne Bier's affecting Brodre. At first, the three leads (especially Portman) all seem too much younger than their Danish counterparts, but with some obvious visual clues that Portman and Maguire's characters were high-school sweethearts, the characterizations start clicking into place, and each actor rises to the challenge. Portman is luminous as a grief-stricken young "widow," and Gyllenhaal is surprisingly believable as the edgier bad-boy brother trying to make amends. But it's Maguire who has to anchor the emotional intensity, capturing Sam's months of torture and then his return to civilization mostly with bulging eyes, set jaw, and an acidly dropped curse word.
To Americanize Bier's masterful original, screenwriter David Benioff makes Sam and Tommy's father (Sam Shepard) a Vietnam vet, lending even more credibility to the good-son/bad-son dynamic between the brothers. Portman's almost distracting loveliness is also taken into consideration, as it becomes the subject of small talk among Tommy's friends. There's more humor in this version as well, especially in a key scene in which Tommy and Grace bond over a joint and a U2 song. Overall, Sheridan's remake is beautifully acted and, unfortunately, quite timely. But everyone who sees it should, also watch Bier's subtle, harrowing original.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how war (both the Vietnam war and the war in Afghanistan) affects the Cahills. Did Sam really have a choice in what he did? The movie doesn't judge him, but what do you think?
How is grief portrayed in the movie?
Discuss how both brothers deal with their actions. How do their decisions and approaches differ?
- In theaters: December 4, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: March 23, 2010
- Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
- Director: Jim Sheridan
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some disturbing violent content
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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