Instead of opening with a perfectly happy family, one where everyone sits at dinner smiling and laughing as the Hollywood cliche goes, Brothers starts ugly. Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal) is just released from prison for robbing a bank, and the tension between the elder Cahill, Hank (Sam Shepard) and Tommy is incredible.
The table is quiet, with awkward glances exchanged, and Hank stating how Tommy’s brother Sam (Tobey Maguire) has done everything right. There is little respect amongst anyone in this family, Hank proud his son is returning to Afghanistan for another tour of duty the next morning, disappointed his brother did not follow the same path.
Brothers never loses that dramatic intensity. It permeates every scene, even when Tommy is interacting happily with Sam’s children. Sam is reportedly killed in a helicopter crash, leaving his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) alone with two daughters. Tommy helps out, and begins a possible romance with Grace that lasts until Sam returns home alive.
Brothers does not bend early. It moves somewhat ploddingly to establish a natural story arc. Interspersed with those scenes of Tommy ice skating and building snowman with his brother’s children are the ugly scenes of Sam stuck in captivity. Both move with a perfect dramatic flow, something that may bother the less patient. Without the build-up, Sam’s return home would not have the same impact, despite Maguire’s spectacular performance.
It is one of those displays of acting flair that goes deeper than performance. Burdened by his actions in Afghanistan, Sam begins lashing out, slowly, upon his return home. There is a look in his eyes, as if you can see the mental anguish in his head waiting to snap.
This leads to a birthday party where Sam’s daughter is being disruptive. Maguire stares with a fierce anger, veins beginning to pop in his forehead. The conversation driven in the background is irrelevant, delivered by a secondary character. The focus is on Sam, and this is where he finally begins to lose control of his own mind.
This is a film about war, or at least the effects of it. A remake of the 2004 Danish film Brodre, this American take is aided by a stunning level of performances. Portman’s grieving widow is almost too much to take, and Gyllenhaal as the slowly recovering criminal are flawless. Nothing in Brothers is fun, even the laughter of children at play. It carries a dark, unnerving quality through to the ending, which also could not have been handled better.
Lionsgate offers a AVC encode for Brothers on Blu-ray, a generally pleasing effort with a minimal level of problems. Black levels, despite some light crush, are strong. The nature of the film leads to a significant number of sequences shot in low or limited lighting. Despite a minor murky quality to some of these scenes, they perform well.
Facial close-ups are nearly always flawless, including well-defined textures. Definition is strong, with fully resolved pores and clarity at this level. Contrast is bright, perfectly calibrated as to not bleach out high fidelity detail. Clothing textures are likewise handled well, and environments are delineated superbly (despite some softness). You can pick up the full texture of the meatloaf at the dinner table around 7:48. The walls of the rocky prison Sam is contained inside of produces some superb high definition visuals too.
Colors, including flesh tones, carry a warm quality in the home. Afghanistan features a cooler palette, handled equally. A mild grain structure is at work, appearing marginally noisy against the beautifully saturated blue sky during a wide shot, but contained otherwise to keep a film-like appearance.
Some camcorder footage is obviously a wash, appearing as intended. The transfer’s other problems include people at a distance. Color separation seems minimal, producing a smooth, digital appearance. The encode struggles to maintain adequate definition and sharpness, losing the detail held elsewhere. Sharpness is not always consistent either, such as the first ice skating scene.
A DTS-HD effort is sustained in the front channels, rarely working the rears aside from a helicopter crash. The films score, with a heavy, smooth LFE presence, and adequate stereo split, does not bleed into the surrounds. Gunfire during a raid which can be heard in the distance also sticks to the stereo channels.
This track is almost ridiculously quiet, requiring a volume level significantly higher than the norm. Dialogue, while low like everything else, is generally easy to discern. Ambiance is mild at best, noted in the prison while Tommy is leaving, and lightly inside a crowded bar.
When Sam snaps, he begins smashing the kitchen, the shattering glass carrying a crisp clarity. Fidelity never drops, as is the expectation for any modern film.
A commentary from director Jim Sheridan begins an anemic set of extras, followed by a making of titled Remade in the USA. This gives adequate credit to the original, while Sheridan explains his appreciation for the Danish version. Jim Sheridan: Film and Family focuses on the director and his inspirations. Trailers remain.