Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: BROTHERS

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  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Brothers (Blu-ray)


    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 105 min.
    Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
    Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $39.99
    Disc Format: 1 25 GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Dec. 4, 2009
    Blu-ray Release Date: Mar. 23, 2010



    Introduction:

    As the title suggests, Brothers is a family story. Though nominally sticking closely to the plot of the 2004 Danish film, Brødre, director Jim Sheridan has created a thoughtful and finely observed work that, by paying close attention to its reimagined American setting, emerges as something entirely new.



    The Feature:

    Capt. Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is a dedicated Marine and devoted family man married to his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman), with whom he has two young daughters, Isabelle and Maggie (Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare, both superbly natural). At the opening of Brothers, it is May 2007, and Sam is preparing to redeploy to Afghanistan. Isabelle, who is old enough to understand what that means, doesn’t want him to go. In a familiar ritual, Sam writes a farewell letter to Grace and leaves it with his commanding officer (Clifton Collins, Jr.), to be delivered if he doesn’t return.

    Before he goes, Sam has another job. He has to pick up his younger brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhall), who is being paroled from a prison term for armed robbery. The contrast between these two brothers is such an embarrassment to their father, Hank (Sam Shepard), a career Marine and Vietnam vet, that Hank picks a fight with Tommy during his first dinner home, which is also Sam’s farewell dinner. Their stepmother, Elsie (Mare Winningham), can do little to heal the rift.

    Sam departs, and everyone carries on. But one day two uniformed officers appear at Grace’s door with the news that every military spouse dreads: Sam has been killed in action, his helicopter shot down over enemy territory. Each member of the Cahill family reacts to the terrible news in his or her own way, but of all the reactions, Tommy’s is the most surprising, even to himself. The loss of his brother jolts Tommy into a sense of responsibility he never knew he had. He finds himself looking out for his two nieces. He tries to help Grace with the household. And he even does something that he’d previously refused to do – he tries to make amends for the crime that landed him in prison.

    But the audience knows something that the Cahill family doesn’t: Sam isn’t dead. He and another solider, Pvt. Joe Willis (Patrick Flueger), survived the helicopter crash, only to be captured by the Taliban. Their treatment is brutal. Months later, when Sam is found by an army unit on a routine sweep, his survival purely a matter of chance, he is a shell of his former self.

    The scene in Brothers in which Grace Cahill receives a phone call that she never expected bearing news she never dared to hope for is an apt example of the film’s economy and restraint. Grace’s face is suffused with joy, but the scene is not a happy one. It’s a scene out of Hitchcock, because, as with all the master of suspense’s greatest works, the audience has more information than the characters. The audience knows that the man who will be returning home is not the same man who left. Sam returns bearing the full weight of his ordeal as a prisoner, and it crushes him.

    No one in Brothers tosses around easy labels like “survivor guilt” or “PTSD”. Instead, we watch the haunted look of a man who recognizes the world around him but can no longer recognize himself in it – and never more so than when he encounters the widow of Pvt. Joe Willis. She’s played by Carey Mulligan, who is unforgettable in just a few minutes of screen time. (Director Sheridan cast her before her Oscar-nominated performance in An Education; on the commentary track recorded just as that film was being released, he predicts that she’ll be a star.)

    In the original Danish film, the third act was about how both brothers were now in love with the same woman. Some element of that remains in Brothers, as Sam’s jealousy of Grace and Tommy becomes a way for him to express his increasing alienation. But Sheridan has refocused the story into a study of what happens when the long-time anchor of a family becomes its loose cannon (or, to put it differently, when the strong man becomes the invalid). The effects can be even more destructive than his death. With the acute insight that children often demonstrate, it’s the older Cahill daughter, Isabelle, who first realizes that something’s wrong with her father, and it’s Isabelle who pushes the situation to a breaking point that ends in gunfire, tears and the police being called.

    The cast of Brothers is uniformly excellent. Maguire and Gyllenhaal are convincing both as siblings and in tracing the arc that each one has to travel during the course of the film. Portman once again demonstrates her intelligence as an actress by doing as little as possible; her Grace is not overly emotive or demonstrative, just a solid military wife who deals with each situation as it comes. As the family patriarch, Sam Shepard creates a character who could have stepped out of the pages of one of his plays: a formidable presence who is impossible to ignore, but has lived a lifetime stuck in a rut of behaviors that he can never change. You watch Shepard’s Hank, and you can see where the brothers got their strengths – and their weaknesses.



    Video:

    Brothers was shot with a rich but understated palette by Frederick Elmes, whose credits include Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Synecdoche, New York. Consistent with director Sheridan’s distaste for visual fussiness, the film was shot simply, but Elmes can’t help but compose an elegant frame. The Blu-ray image has solid blacks, and the colors are well-rendered. Detail is good enough that you are never in doubt when tears begin to fall, even with faces in shadow. The film was shot in New Mexico, but Sheridan wasn’t looking for dramatic landscapes. Instead, he wanted towns and houses that looked like places where real military families lived. As a result, the viewer might not be immediately inspired to exclaim, “Oh, how beautiful!” However, if you look closely, the world of Brothers is presented here with an impressive, almost tactile authenticity.



    Audio:

    The DTS lossless track provides a pleasing sense of ambiant sound in the American scenes. In the war scenes, it delivers the sound effects necessary to punctuate the moments of combat. Dialogue is clearly reproduced. Probably the soundtrack’s finest component is the atmospheric, guitar-dominated score by Thomas Newman, whose talent for accentuating the mood of a drama has never been more in evidence. Also, this being a Jim Sheridan film, songs by U2 feature prominently in several scenes.



    Special Features:

    Commentary with Director Jim Sheridan. Sheridan provides a lively commentary packed with interesting detail about the shoot, the editing process, the actors, his views on directing and other assorted topics.

    Remade in the USA.: How Brødre Became Brothers (HD) (12:46). A look at the original Danish film, including excerpts, as well as interviews with its director and co-writer, Susanne Bier, and with David Benioff, the screenwriter who adapted the film into Brothers.

    Jim Sheridan: Family and Friends (HD) (15:53). An informative featurette on Jim Sheridan, his working methods and his philosophy of directing, including interviews with Sheridan and the principal cast and crew. No mere fluff piece, this provides genuine insight into what Sheridan considers important in filmmaking. Among other things, it explains why he has never been, and never will be, a commercially successful director. The things that interest Sheridan are not the stuff of huge opening weekends.

    Trailers (HD). The film’s theatrical trailer is included. Also available both at startup and from the special features menu are trailers for From Paris With Love, The Spy Next Door, Season of the Witch, Gamer, Precious and the Epix HD service; these can be skipped at startup with the chapter forward button.



    In Conclusion:

    It’s fitting that this American remake was overseen by an Irish director, because Brothers is the kind of traditional drama that American studios have largely abandoned to independents and foreign producers. (When Clint Eastwood was trying to persuade a studio to make Mystic River, one executive actually said to him, “We don’t make dramas.”) Given the film’s lukewarm box office, it’s hard to argue with the studios’ position. Even the star wattage of Portman, Maguire and Gyllenhaal and a prestige release during awards season wasn’t enough to overcome the film’s lack of eye candy and the absence of any buzz-worthy “high concept”. Another family drama? Ho-hum.

    But the subject never grows old, because everyone renews and relives it every day. And when a film is this well made, it’s like experiencing something at once familiar and wholly original.




    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     

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