Trading places for Tobey and Jake

"Only the dead see the end of war. I have seen the end of war. How do I go on living?" The closing words of Brothers, the new movie from director Jim Sheridan, make for an unconvincing finale to a film that threatens to grip the audience but never retains a significant hold.

The overarching theme of Brothers is the effect of war on the soldiers who fight and the families who bear the brunt of its tragedy. Using this central thesis, Sheridan (My Left Foot, In The Name of the Father) explores the idea of masculine roles and how situation and context alter their meaning.

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Tobey Maguire’s Sam is a soldier and dependable family man living in American suburbia.  The pride and joy of his father, Sam is sent to Afghanistan to do his duty. Left at home is his pretty wife Grace, played excellently by Natalie Portman, and brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is the polar opposite of Sam - a drunk and a dropout.

When Sam’s helicopter is shot down behind enemy lines, he is presumed dead. Brothers then gets down to exploring the theme of changing roles, although in a rather clunky fashion. Tommy metamorphoses into the dependable father figure in the absence of Sam, and at times, becomes a subject of Grace’s confused lust. The plot then rushes towards a crescendo, although we were left unconvinced by the rapid development in Grace and Tommy's feelings for each other.

What Sheridan achieves best is exploring the dynamics of family tensions, especially when the twist is applied in the final third. Brothers is at times gripping, and is often nicely balanced with genuine moments of humour, but the narrative and plot are ultimately not as strong as the performances that underpin it. Tom Ford

Brothers is released on 22 January