I don’t usually write movie reviews because I don’t watch a lot of movies and when I do, I’m generally never impressed or angry enough to want to tell people about it. Brothers, however… Okay, I knew it wasn’t going to be an incestuous Brokeback Mountain with Toby Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, but I had hoped for at least a few lingering brotherly hugs. Whatever, you knew I was a perv. The commercials painted this movie to be almost a horror movie, with the suspicious husband coming back from Afghanistan and terrorizing his wife and brother for the affair he suspects. I did not expect a long, rambling drama with petty, unlikeable characters and no fucking end.
The movie kicks off with Toby Maguire, playing Captain Sam Cahill, writing a letter to his wife Natalie Portman (Grace). He is distracted and distant because this is the letter that will be sent out if he dies on his mission in Afghanistan. Okay, strong start. It gets progressively worse from here though. Flash back to Sam and Grace and their happy family. Their younger daughter, Maggie, is a cute and rambunctious five-year-old who loves her daddy. She wants nothing but hugs and playtime. The older daughter, Isabelle, who also looks about five but is apparently old enough to read a giant novel in bed while giving her dad the cold shoulder, is a little darker and remains so throughout the movie. The flashback centers around Sam going to pick up his older brother Tommy, Jake Gyllenhaal, from jail, where he’s been for a number of years, and Sam’s family asking why HE needs to go pick up his screw-up brother. Sam brings Tommy home for the first of several birthdays. This movie has more birthdays that a goddamn Bubba Gump’s. It’s like the writers were looking for an excuse to get the whole family together when really, if the grandparents had been over for dinner, I would not have questioned it at all. So older daughter Isabelle starts off the night by telling Tommy that Mommy doesn’t like him, leaving Grace to sputter and not ever actually say anything because she has the personality of a door knob the whole movie. Then Granddad shows up and scowls at Tommy. This exchange in particular pissed me off.
Tommy (in an attempt to get his dad to stop harping on him for not being Sam): The food’s good.
Granddad: Compared to what?
At this point, if I were Natalie Portman, I would have asked Granddad what his fucking problem with my food was, but like I said, she has the personality of a houseplant.
Tommy: Compared…to…other food…?
Granddad: Prison food?
Tommy then slams his hand on the table, furious, and scares the shit out of older daughter Isabelle, who is sitting next to him. Grandma takes Grandpa into the kitchen to scold him. At some point in the movie, it is revealed that Tommy and Sam’s real mom is dead, which is completely useless in furthering the plot because no mention is ever made about their real mom, who the new woman is or how they feel about her, or any life-altering things that happened because their mom is dead. Good job, you wasted a scene to make the movie more confusing and slow.
Blah blah blah, Sam is back in Afghanistan and suddenly some Marines are at Grace’s door to tell her he’s been killed in a helicopter crash. Tommy comes to Grace’s house later that night to drunkenly return their car which he insists Sam said he could borrow any time he wanted, tell her that the broken tail light was some other ass hole’s fault, and then yell at her for not liking him. She tells him that Sam is dead and he yells at her some more, making himself into an even more unlikeable character.
There IS a surprisingly touching moment when Grace walks into her daughters’ room before the funeral to see that older daughter Isabelle is no longer in her funeral dress. She falls into mother mode and asks the little girl to put it back on. The older daughter replies, face down from the bed, that the dress is uncomfortable and she doesn’t like it. Younger daughter Maggie complains in the half-hearted way of a child who is very, very sad that her dress is itchy and she also doesn’t want to wear it, and Grace has a moment where she is clearly torn between convention and the fact that her two very young daughters have just lost their dad and probably shouldn’t be made to wear itchy, uncomfortable dresses at his funeral. Cut to them in dark, but sensible, sweaters and jeans.
Of course, Granddad is back for the funeral and, while there was no booze at the cemetery and he had to have driven there, Tommy is asking for his keys and telling him he is not fit to drive. This results in a blaming war about who was responsible for Sam’s death in Afghanistan even though there is no way either of them could ever be responsible for him dying in a helicopter crash. Granddad gets a few more jabs in about Tommy being a jobless bum and then walks home. Are you starting to see how long this fucking movie is? The whole movie is set up for Sam to come home and be pissed when the set up should have been quick and the repercussions should have been the long bit.
Cut to Sam, alive. Unfortunately, this is not a big surprise because the commercials already told us that the movie would be about his return after everyone thought he was dead. It’s like when you read the synopsis of a Chuck Palahniuk book and they tell you things that are revealed on the last fucking page. Some people need to learn to tell stories. If I had just thought this movie was about the possible affair between widow and brother, I would have been delighted by the twist of Sam being alive, although not enough that this movie would be good by any stretch of the imagination. Anyways, he’s captured by Afghans and put in a hole with a private he saved from the crash and then video-taped being tortured and later beating the private to death at gunpoint.
While Sam is going through POW hell in Afghanistan, Tommy slowly becomes a part of Grace and the kids’ lives. He starts out as a nuisance, calling Grace up at three in the morning to pay a bar tab that he was going to walk out on and then sleeping at her house because he’s got nowhere else to go. Wanting to do something nice for her, he calls some of his friends to help him redecorate her hideous kitchen. I’m kind of bummed that Ethan Suplee lost about a million pounds and he still always plays the fat dumb guy, but I’d like to think that he refused to be the fat dumb guy who wore brand new pants to paint a kitchen with two little girls in the single-digit age group and for that I salute him. Seriously, who does that? Also, did Natalie Portman write this movie? Every person who comes into her house has to comment about how pretty she is. I know she’s pretty. It’s not like in Drive Angry where they had to set up that in this alternate universe ladies totally dig Nicolas Cage. So Tommy and Grace start off rocky but eventually get to talking and drinking and share a kiss. Grace immediately leaves and nothing more is said, a surprisingly smart move on both their parts. Tommy stays around though and becomes a second father to the girls, becoming very close with older daughter Isabelle, who feels like she is loved less than younger daughter Maggie, but nothing else ever happens between him and Grace.
Suddenly, Sam is back. There is no talk about how he got rescued or what happened. The last third of the movie (the interesting part) happens in a rushed blur. Sam’s back and he’s eerie and he’s cooly asking Tommy if he fucked Grace while Sam was officially dead. At dinner, he is confused about a joke the youngest daughter makes and he won’t let it go, which is evidence that he’s disturbed because little kids never make any fucking sense anyhow.
Then at younger daughter Maggie’s birthday, Tommy shows up with a random girl he met an hour before who completely dominates the conversation (“OMG, Grace is SO pretty.”). Isabelle, who is already pissed that this woman is here taking Uncle Tommy away from her, begins to make a lot of annoying noise while glaring daggers at New Broad. Finally, Sam can’t take it anymore and he lunges across the table and pops the balloon Isabelle is making noise with. Isabelle bursts into tears and rails at her dad for being in Afghanistan for her birthday but coming home for Maggie’s. Everyone is taken aback but she’s a little girl and couldn’t possibly understand how hurtful what she said was, right? Then she yells, “Couldn’t you just stay dead? You’re just mad cause Mom would rather sleep with Uncle Tommy! Mom and Uncle Tommy had sex all the time!” What? This kid is 8 at the oldest. This is just bad writing. What the hell kind of 8-year-old would know that that was the most painful button to push? I’m not saying that 8-year-olds don’t know that sex is around but I’ve never met an 8-year-old who was perceptive enough to know the role that sex plays in adult relationships. If anyone should have planted the seed of doubt into Sam’s head about Tommy and Grace, it should have been Granddad, who had come over early one morning and saw that Tommy had slept over. Isabelle is relatively dark and hurtful for a kid, but Granddad is just the kind of ass hole to draw his own conclusions about Tommy sleeping over and make a snide comment to Sam about it.
Anyhow, little Maggie in her party hat with her untouched birthday cake in front of her asks to leave and Sam takes his family home in furious silence. Back at Granddad’s, Tommy’s lady has split and Tommy says he’s headed to Sam and Grace’s to sort this mess out. Granddad yells at Tommy’s back that it’s none of Tommy’s business and (step-?)Grandma suggests that they should immediately call the police. Impending shit-storm tripled!
Grace tucks the girls in and asks Isabelle why she would say what she said, especially since she knows it’s not true. Isabelle says she doesn’t like Daddy and wishes that Uncle Tommy was her new dad and Maggie agrees. Grace goes downstairs to stare at Sam and not say anything while he completely freaks out and destroys the kitchen Tommy redid, smashing pretty much everything and pulling cabinets off the wall. I love a good destruction scene, so even though I was worried that Sam would eventually turn his rage on Grace and beat her to death with a coffee-maker, I enjoyed the tornado of rage. Of course, just as Sam calms down enough to stop screaming and throwing crap, Tommy walks in cautiously and with his hands where everyone can see them. He very slowly walks up to Sam and very slowly hugs him. Then the police sirens sound.
Sam flips out again and pulls a gun, shrieking at Tommy for calling the police and leaving a barrel impression in Tommy’s cheek. Grace books it up to the girls’ room screaming and tells them to lock their door. Sam ends up outside screaming at the police, nearly kills himself with the gun, and is taken to jail. His one phone call goes to Tommy to say, “You’re my brother.” I guess that was supposed to be a truce moment, but it really could have meant anything the way he deadpanned it.
Cut to Grace visiting Sam in a veteran’s mental hospital. She tells him she’ll leave him if he doesn’t tell her what happened to him in Afghanistan, he spills, movie over. That quickly. No aftermath, no epilogue, nothing. I feel like I could have been at least okay with the movie if there had been some kind of wrap up. I mean, Isabelle just listened to her dad almost kill her mom and then himself because of a lie she told. That’s going to fuck a little kid up, probably for life. And now neither the grandparents nor Sam is sure what went on with Grace and Tommy so even if Sam does get help and get out of the mental hospital, that’ll always be looming over their marriage and their family life. And Tommy never did get a job as far as the movie was concerned so how has he even been surviving? The whole movie was frustrating and then nothing was solved. Don’t watch this movie. Honestly, I’m sorry if you read this whole review.