The American remake of Susanne Bier’s 2004 Danish film Brothers (Brødre) is reasonably faithful to Bier’s original film. Both films are centred on three characters: a war hero deployed in Afghanistan, his loving wife and his troubled brother who has just been released from jail. Both films explore the nature of posttraumatic stress disorder and destructive sexual paranoia.
This 2009 adaptation by Irish director Jim Sheridan (In America, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot) is a more simplistic and direct version of Bier’s 2004 film. The character motivations and the relationships between the characters are now a lot more direct and blatantly depicted. Although this loses a lot of the nuances of Bier’s 2004 version, Sheridan’s film still mostly maintains the power that is required in key scenes throughout the film. In particular the tense family dynamics that are present during two key dinner scenes are expertly played out. However, the literalness of Sheridan’s version does not always work and the final scene in the film is compromised by the need to state the obvious.
Sheridan’s version also suffers from a rushed beginning that cuts to the main action far too quickly. The soldier character Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) does not have time to be adequately endeared to the audience so our sympathies are overly biased towards the other brother Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal). Nevertheless both Maguire and Gyllenhaal are remarkably good in their roles and Maguire in particular delivers some of the best acting he has ever done.
As Grace Cahill, Sam’s wife, Natalie Portman also excels and in fact the key to truly appreciating both versions of Brothers is to focus on the wife character and how she navigates the minefield of emotions. Child actors Taylor Geare and Bailee Madison as the Cahill’s daughters are also remarkable and the moments when they attempt to put on a brave face despite what is happening around them are truly heart breaking.
Remakes are not by default inferior to their original film but in the case of Brothers it is the case. Some of the liberties that this new film takes with the original source material do let the film down, which is a shame because other elements, including the performances by the three leads, are incredibly strong. While you would be better off tracking down a copy of the 2004 Danish film, this 2009 American remake still packs a punch where it counts.