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Brothers: Boys Becoming Men
Portman, Maguire and Gyllenhaal aren’t always known for their range as actors, and despite their best efforts, their boyish looks have always betrayed them in the past. In Brothers, the trio joins hands to escape from the typecast pigeonhole and come out victorious at the end.
The film is not about the recent war in Afghanistan. As its title suggests, Brothers is family drama with Cain-and-Abel siblings at its centre. Sam Cahill (Maguire) is a Marine captain who is married to the beautiful Grace (Portman), with whom he has two daughters. Tommy Cahill (Gyllenhaal) just came out of prison, and although he loves his brother, he can’t adjust to living in his shadow. Sam goes back to Afghanistan and dies serving his country. Tommy hesitantly steps up and supports his deceased brother’s family, and in doing so, he becomes closer to his brother’s widow.
Brothers is a remake of a 2004 Danish film by the same name. Director Sheridan’s talent lies in bringing out the subtleties and humanity of ordinary tales without letting them escalade to melodrama. He chooses the right moments to capture, he gets close to his characters, and he shows skill at directing children. Brothers has all the makings of a quality Sheridan film.
The actors’ rock-solid performances may distract you from Brothers script shortcomings. It’s remarkable how all the leads exercise restraint. Given the nature of the source material, this could have easily played like an endless best-actor-montage at the Oscar; filled with speeches, tears and moments spent staring into an emotional abyss. However, all the leads play their parts with veteran skill. On the supporting side, Shepard’s turn as the father is truly touching. You can feel the consequences of his favouritism while raising the brothers; he delivers every line, expression and shudder with insightful weight.
However, the film’s weaknesses come to haunt it at the end. Brothers did a great job of breathing realism into the characters and story; but the film is staged more like a play, and by the end the plot has nowhere to go but to a theatrical climax. It doesn’t ruin the experience; but it might remind you that you’re watching a dramatization of life, not a reflection of it.
Brothers is one step away from being a great film, and it will remind you that millions of dollars spent on CGI can never recreate humanity.
Harrelson has a starry supporting cast backing him up made up of the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ice Cube, Ben Foster and Robin Wright Penn. Brie Larson plays Dave’s daughter Helen, and after him, she’s the best thing about the film. The relationship between the two runs on hate and scorn mixed with a twisted kind of love. It brings to mind the saying about how blood is thicker than water. How you can hate a family member so much and see them for the worthless scum that they are, yet still allow their opinions and words to affect you. It’s a toxic relationship, one of many in the film, yet it packs a punch that the others don’t.
The story is occasionally difficult to keep track of as it jumps abruptly from one topic to another, but Dave’s internal conflict is more compelling than anything the story throws at you. Dave and Helen’s scenes together are far more powerful and infinitely more interesting than any of the scenes in which he brandishes a gun or kicks a guy to a bloody pulp. The film has some fine camera work; it forgoes flashiness just for the sake of it and instead focuses on bringing the viewer in closer to the actors. It works with the actors to set the scenes’ mood instead of just framing them.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.