Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Bracingly raw, unnervingly tense and impeccably acted across the board, 2009’s Brothers marked a return to old form for Jim Sheridan — back on familiar footing of families fractured by wartime violence (The Boxer and In the Name of the Father).
Only the milieu was Midwestern, not Irish, and Tobey Maguire — 34 and still not looking a day over 24 — descended to darker depths than he’d ever dared before.
He’s Captain Sam Cahill, a Marine missing and presumed dead in Afghanistan whose unexpected return home upends his family — namely his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and ne’er-do-well brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom he furiously insists have slept with each other amid mounting post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maguire’s jaw seems squarer, his eyes more electrified and — as Sam’s features harden with resolve — he resembles Robert De Niro circa The Deer Hunter. And when Sam snaps — all snarls, snot and spit — Sheridan and Maguire place you in Sam’s percussive, throbbing psyche.
Although this is Maguire’s movie, Portman convincingly vacillates allegiance between joy of the future and grief of love lost. And, using physical nuance, Gyllenhaal shows Tommy torn up by his inability to tell Sam he didn’t want to do more than kiss Grace (a scene free of obvious emotions and payoffs).
Brothers didn’t set out to demonize war, merely to chronicle the good people whom it has demonized. Whether their damnation was temporary or perpetual was anyone’s guess in the ambiguous conclusion, as the capacity to forgive one’s self and one’s family wasn’t so easily resolved.