It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Brothers” is the new film by Jim Sheridan, a director who has a sure hand with stories about families (“In America” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Boxer”). This one is about a family twisted from its natural form when the father leaves for service in Afghanistan just after his brother comes home from prison. The good brother goes into harm's way while the bad brother is shielded by his own misbehavior.
The brothers are played by two leading young actors I hadn't thought of as plausible brothers before, but I do now. Tobey Maguire is Capt. Sam Cahill, very warmly married to Grace (Natalie Portman), father of Isabelle and Maggie. Jake Gyllenhaal is his brother, Tommy, out after a term for armed robbery. Their father, Hank Cahill (Sam Shepard), makes little secret of his pride in Sam and his contempt for Tommy.
But Tommy in his own way is trying to avoid more trouble. Word arrives that Sam has died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Portman handles this blow, and the whole movie, in a touchingly mature way; it redoubles her love for her daughters. Tommy, awkwardly, almost fearfully, tries to help her out with jobs around the house that Sam would have done. She doesn't want this help, but over a time she softens. She knows all about Tommy's history, but she married into it; she didn't grow up with it.
I will try to avoid unnecessary detail. You will have anticipated that with Sam dead, the mother raising the girls and Tommy trying to help, there is the possibility that the two survivors will grow close. Whether they do is not the subject of the picture. That becomes whether Sam suspects they do, and what he thinks about it.