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Film / Brothers (2009)

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Brothers is a 2009 psychological war thriller directed by Jim Sheridan. It is a remake of Susanne Bier's Danish film Brødre from 2004.

When his helicopter goes down during his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan, Marine Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is presumed dead. Back home, brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to look over Sam’s wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and two children. Sam’s surprise homecoming triggers domestic mayhem.

Tobey Maguire received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama for his performance.

Not to be confused with the 1984 sitcom of the same name, nor with the sequel to Marathon Man.

Brothers contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • Marine bases tend to be on the coasts, since the Marines are a naval service. But the base Sam is at is portrayed as being far inland. The two main Marine bases in North America are Camp Pendleton and Camp Leujene, which are both located in warm areas, whereas the film is set in a snowy, cold locale.
    • Joe Willis is buried near the base Sam works at, when he would probably be buried in his hometown (given as being in the Midwest) or maybe in Arlington National Cemetery given his status as a POW.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: Near the end, the DOD Police respond to the fight at Sam's house with their lights and sirens blaring, alerting him to their presence and causing him to go outside to confront them armed. In real-life the police tend to respond to domestic disturbances with their lights and sirens turned off, in order to prevent precisely this sort of thing from happening. They also in all likelihood would've shot him in real life the moment he started firing his weapon off into the air.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • In real life, Sam would not have been declared dead, only missing, since they never found his remains. Even today there are still soldiers from wars that happened many decades ago still declared missing since their remains were never found, even though in all likelihood they are dead.
    • Sam is a Marine, but the base he is assigned to is called a fort. Only army bases are called forts, Marine bases are called camps.
    • Sam and his fellow Marines are riding in an Army helicopter from the 173rd Airborne when they are shot down, when it would be more fitting for them to be riding in a Marine or Navy helicopter.
  • Artistic License – Politics: The film portrays the Taliban as being some sort of secular Afghan nationalist group, when they are actually ultra-religious fanatics with connections to Pakistan. Also they keep their capture of Sam and Willis on the low for a long time, which is odd since typically when such groups capture Americans they tend to immediately go public with it in order to boast about it and hopefully extract some concessions.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Sam unleashes a genuinely aggressive one after he dismantles the newly-repaired kitchen.
  • Berserker Tears:
    • Sam is clearly in deep anguish as he thrashes the kitchen.
    • When Isabelle brutally chastises his father, you could see the tears in her eyes.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Inverted. Tommy is the most concerned for Sam's emotional state, as he tries his best to comfort him and even defends him from the cops who arrive at the house.
  • Big Sister Bully: Isabelle becomes this to Maggie during the latter's birthday party, in which she rudely takes her gifts, making Sam angry.
  • Big Little Brother: Tommy is around four inches taller than his older brother Sam.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sam finally decides to go get mental help after suffering a mental breakdown over thinking Grace and Tommy were together, but on the downside, Grace and the family now have to struggle with Sam's PTSD as a result.
  • Black Sheep: Tommy. Due to being a drunken wreck, his family (especially his father) doesn't trust him. This does change when he manages to clean up his act, though.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Played for Drama. Isabelle's brattiness towards her father at the birthday party instigates the latter's Unstoppable Rage.
  • Break the Cutie: Sam becomes an emotional wreck as soon as he returns home, culminating in going on an Unstoppable Rage after thinking Grace cheated on him with Tommy.
  • Broken Pedestal: Sam becomes this to his children (especially Isabelle) when he returns from his tour of duty. Initially, they looked up to him and respected him, but his new hostile and antisocial attitude causes them to fear him, with Isabelle harshly chastising him at the dinner party and telling him they prefer Tommy over him.
  • Broken Tears: Sam has these when he kills Joe in front of the Afghans.
    Sam: THERE!!!
  • Calling the Old Man Out: After finding out he's alive, Isabelle is upset about Sam letting himself get captured and not showing up at her birthday party, and she yells at him at Maggie's birthday party. A rare example of this trope being completely unjustified.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Sam doesn't want to tell anyone that he killed Joe.
  • Children Are Innocent: Maggie.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Sam's entire Heroic BSoD towards Grace when he comes back home and believes that she is having an affair with Tommy.
    Grace: Sam, please. Our girls, please.
    Sam: YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU?! YOU WHAT I... CHRIST! DO YOU KNOW WHAT I CAN FUCKING..- YOU KNOW WHAT I CAN DO WITH THESE FUCKING HANDS, GRACE?!!! (repeatedly slaps his face with his hands) YOU FUCK!! (breaks various things across the kitchen room) CHRIST! FUCK!!!
  • Daddy's Girl: Maggie has a hard time dealing with Sam's death at first.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Sam mistakenly believes Grace started a relationship with Tommy while he was in Afghanistan and presumed dead. Though they did kiss, they didn't proceed out of respect for him.
    • Isabelle gets angry at her father for favoring Maggie and tells him he should have stayed dead, oblivious to the amount of trauma and suffering he went through (including killing his second-in-command) in order to survive and return to her.
  • Driven to Suicide: Subverted. Sam looks like he's going to shoot himself when the cops arrive but then changes his mind.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite lashing out at him earlier, Isabelle is nonetheless distraught to witness Sam brutally smash the kitchen in an emotional rage.
  • Family Man: Played with. Sam was initially the well-respected one in his family, but this changes after he returns to America as a mental wreck.
  • A Father to His Men: Sam is distraught when his captors force him to kill Joe.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling:
    • Sam and Tommy, although the roles switch after Sam returns from combat.
    • Subverted for Maggie and Isabelle. Maggie can't be classified as "foolish," since she's only 5, and Isabelle certainly isn't responsible, as her ugly behavior causes her father to have a huge breakdown.
  • Heroic BSoD: Sam suffers from one when he thinks that Grace is having an affair with his brother Tommy.
  • Hourglass Plot: Sam, the upright Army officer, is the responsible sibling to Tommy's drunken screw-up. However, Tommy starts straightening out his life, while Sam comes back from combat riddled with PTSD and unable to function.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Deconstructed. Sam kills Joe to save himself from the Afghans and return home, but his severe regret over this makes him unstable.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Sam does this as he wrecks the kitchen.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Played with. Isabelle says this to her father for favoring her younger sister. By the look on her face upstairs during his outburst, it's clear Isabelle will hold guilt for this act for the rest of her life.
  • Jerkass:
  • Karma Houdini: Downplayed. Though Isabelle doesn't get any punishment for driving her father to a nervous breakdown and attempting suicide, she's just as affected by her father's return as the rest of her family.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Even after Joe gives them the message they want, the Afghans force Sam to beat him to death anyway.
    • Isabelle blatantly telling her father that she wished he "stayed dead," and that her mother would rather "sleep with Uncle Tommy." This is especially heartbreaking since he practically went through hell just to return to her and her sister.
  • Large Ham: Sam sure knows how to ham it up when he smashes things believing that his wife Grace is cheating with Tommy. Tobey Maguire even considered this performance exhausting.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Sam believes Grace and Tommy had a sexual relationship in his absence. Grace and Tommy did share a kiss but immediately regretted it.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Sam feels deeply remorseful for killing Joe in Afghanistan, thus he refuses to tell anyone about this.
    • Implied with Isabelle. She nervously looks down at her father's violent outburst, possibly out of guilt for lashing out at him at the party.
  • Nervous Wreck: Once he returns to America, Sam becomes this. It only gets worse from there.
  • Never Found the Body: News comes that Sam's helicopter has crashed over the water, killing all the marines aboard. In reality, the Afghans have taken him and a hometown friend, Private Joe Willis, a prisoner in a mountain village. Only Sam makes it, though.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Sam reluctantly beats Joe with a metal pipe in order to escape from his captors, killing him.
  • No Indoor Voice: Sam shouts at the top of his lungs during his breakdown.
  • Not Himself: Grace wonders why Sam has been acting timid since he got back from Afghanistan.
  • The Paranoiac: Sam starts to become one after the incident. He even pulls a gun out of his back pocket when a faint noise is heard outside. He eventually gets better, however.
  • Parental Favoritism: Despite their love for Isabelle, Sam and Grace gave Maggie more attention than her. Lampshaded by Isabelle.
  • Parental Neglect: Sam starts to distance himself from his kids due to his PTSD. His kids start resenting him for it, especially Isabelle, who spells it out to him in the harshest way possible.
  • Parental Substitute: Tommy becomes this to Isabelle and Maggie while Sam is away in Afghanistan. Isabelle starts to prefer him over Sam when the latter returns.
  • POW Camp: For the first half of the film, the scenes involving Sam.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Throughout the movie, Sam gradually becomes angry as he learns the hard way how his family moved on without him, despite all the hellish experiences in Afghanistan he kept his family from knowing. His bitterness toward Tommy who he believes cheated with his wife (they did share a kiss, but didn't actually go with it) doesn't help, but it's when his daughter, Isabelle, harshly chides him for favoring her younger sister that the whole situation finally pushes him over the edge, sparking his Unstoppable Rage in the climax.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Subverted. Tommy and Grace attempt to begin a relationship while Sam is presumed dead, but don’t go through with it primarily because Tommy serving as one proves to be too awkward. Sam’s belief that Tommy has replaced him drives much of the plot.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Joe. The Afghan soldiers force Sam to kill him as they say if he doesn't die, Sam will.
  • Sadistic Choice: The Afghans tell Sam either he beats Joe to death with a pipe or they shoot him in the head and then shoot Joe. He chooses the former when he hears from their translator that Sam has a family to reunite with.
  • Sanity Slippage: Sam is clearly in a poor mental state by the time he returns from Afghanistan, but his paranoia over Grace's alleged affair with Tommy only exacerbates this to the point he completely loses it near the end of the film.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Sam returns from his tour of duty in Afghanistan and suffers immensely from PTSD when he tries to have a normal life back home.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang:
    • Sam and Tommy; the former being respectable and forthright and the latter being hedonistic and disorderly. However, their dynamic does switch when Sam returns from Afganistan.
    • Maggie and Isabelle also qualify. Maggie is rather innocent and well-mannered, while Isabelle (at least after Sam's return) behaves rather selfishly and condescendingly, which ultimately drives Sam up the wall in the climax.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Sam gets captured by the Afghans alongside his friend, and then is forced to kill said friend to get back home and return to his family. Once he does make it back home, he becomes anxious over Grace supposedly having an affair with his brother, and then gets callously insulted by his resentful daughter, in which he finally loses his marbles.
  • The Unfavorite:
    • Initially, Tommy was this for being a hedonistic mess, but this changes when he manages to clean up his act.
    • Isabelle feels she is this compared to Maggie, triggering her resentment and eventual hostility towards Sam.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Happens to Sam when he thinks Grace had an affair with his brother. He proceeds to brutally thrash the kitchen in the process.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Isabelle's callous remarks towards her father at the party lead to the latter's notorious breakdown.
  • Used to Be More Social: After coming home from Afghanistan, Sam starts to distance himself from his loved ones, getting them all concerned and upset.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Though not a hero per se, Isabelle does get called out by Grace for her nasty behavior at the birthday dinner.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Downplayed. Isabelle is about eight and later about nine, but apparently knows what sex is. Despite this, she lacks the maturity and emotional intelligence to recognize that telling her PTSD-addled father "he should have stayed dead" is incredibly cruel.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: After Joe cracks and gives them the video message they want note , the Afghans force Sam, at gunpoint, to beat Joe to death with a pipe.

Alternative Title(s): Brothers