The essence of mainstream Chinese cinema reflects in certain values and textures of the mythic. In Brothers, the ideal reflects back in the war in the 1920s between the nationalist and the communist factions in China. While the ideology is not specifically addressed, the specific story is integrated between two brothers indoctrinated into the army but ultimately through circumstance they find themselves on separate sides. The filmmaking structure of the technology according to the behind the scenes bonus features began in 2010 and the film was purely made on a stage with green screen. The look of the film reflects that mostly of “Sin City” and, to a lesser point, “300” (made in 2005 and 2006 respectively). Creating whole battle sequences on water and on mountains in this way is interesting but obviously labor intensive as the film didn’t come out until 2016. The conflict involves the older brother Wang and the younger brother Chen coming to terms with the men they have become and their loyalty to those they serve. The underlying narrative structure involves Chen being assigned after a particularly brutal battle to escort some female musicians to a place called High City for a performance. His brother, now part of an assassin squad, finds them and their conflict of ideals begins. While the dialogue is very matter of fact, the texture of the relationship makes definite sense as it does rouse to an almost blindsided conclusion until the resolution is structured. The bonus features also speak to the two actors’ approach to their perspective characters but the enclosed trailer does give away too much of the plot. “Brothers” shows the continually evolving market’s ability to try new things while remaining in certain element of mythic themes resonant to the individual.
By Tim Wassberg
“Brothers” is a tale of life mistaken. In creating this story, director Jim Sheridan has made his most accessible American picture yet simply from the highlighted use of his cast and a less Irish approach. Granted he made “Get Rich Or Die Tryin” but that was more specific to urban in a very precise way about the rise of 50 Cent. Here like some of his earlier films it is about the everyman. While the story might be basic in many ways, it is the casting and the directing that elevates this simple story. Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman elevate beyond their normal roles playing against type to where they can almost melt away. The only problem here is the persona vision of these stars even though they try to keep out of the tabloids unlike some other actors.
These roles are by far the most grown up roles of alot of these actors have played but even within that structure, you almost still see them as kids even though they are in their mid 30s. In retreating into almost suburbia, Portman takes on an almost Winslet quality. With the steady hand of director Sheridan guiding her, there is a lack of presumption which is visible in most of Portman’s work through no fault of her own. Her intelligence is exceptional but sometimes her emotion needs to purely come through without seeing the thinking, not just of her unawareness but in the simplicity of life. The caricatures created of the cheerleader, the football star and the outsider thereby are needed to create this sense of structure.
Jake is quite vindicated here in terms of his acting potential. He shows a depth missing from “Jarhead” and a vulnerableness that was present at times in “Donnie Darko” but perhaps, in many ways, not seen since then. His physical transformation no doubt due to “Prince Of Persia” informs his thoughts here. He is in much rougher form and yet that certain fragile element still comes through but without being forced. As a result, his pain is the most revealing and the most heartbreaking of all because despite his intent, he still can’t win.
Tobey Maguire is quite good but he has the thankless job of playing the man with the problems created in a very linear way yet with very little saved below the surface. His energy is focused but almost too extraneous. He has to viscerally show jealousy without overwhelming the scene which he sometimes fails at. The problem is that his acting has always been very wide eyed which plays against a subtle madness here making it not work as well. His intensity turns into a type of mugging for the character which would not be noticed as much if Jake’s performance wasn’t so rich.
Of course this element is nitpicking at times but ultimately what comes to bear is what different Oscar worthy performances Sheridan was able to get out of these actors. This movie also continues to show the efficiency of filmmaking which is quite interspersed in Lionsgate who shot most of the film in New Mexico making the most of the initiatives since the location can stand in for both Afghanistan as well as the US. In good order, the movie, as mentioned before, also forces Sheridan to remove himself from the structure he is so comfortable in at times which is urban sprawl or in his homeland. By doing this, one tends to see the gift this man truly has with his actors as Daniel Day Lewis has shown within his work many times before.
As a last note, the film is shot by Frederick Elmes who was the DP for David Lynch on many films including “Blue Velvet”. The richness of his images is not overwhelming yet one shot in the snow of Jake walking in silence at the end of the film is an undeniably iconic image that anchors the film and sets it apart than other war themed films we have seen of late.
“Brothers” is a story of human characters made by a group of actors that are at the top of their game. Adding to this perception is a stoic but viciously pinpoint turn of Sam Shepard as the father to these two boys who is now remarried to a different woman than their mother who died. Another standout also permeates in the form of Bailee Madison as one of the young daughters of Portman and Maguire. She matches most of the grown up actors toe to toe without being presumptious. Like Jake, in my mind, she deserves an Oscar nomination for their work because it is so purely emotional. The film is a surprise of riches wrapped in a small package, ready for delivery for those who are able to see its reflection. Out of 5, I give it a 3 1/2.