Now…where do I even start? This is such a difficult movie to “digest”. I find it extremely disturbing and heart-breaking yet I do fine Brothers (2009) an excellent movie.
Well, I guess I should start at the beginning. We’re introduced to Marine Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire), his wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and their two little girls. We’re also introduced to Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) just as he is being released from prison. And then, we discover Sam is about to leave for Afghanistan in the line of duty. Shot down and reported dead, in reality he and good friend Private Joe Willis (Patrick John Flueger) have, in fact, been taken captive and undergo extreme torture* by the Taliban in a remote village. Back home Grace and the family try to make sense of it all while Tommy additionally needs to deal with getting his own life sorted.
*I barely managed to watch these scenes on my first viewing so please be warned…they are not easy watching. And may disturb you long after the credits roll.
This in itself is so heartbreaking to watch as every member of the family, from father to son, mother to daughter and even friends have their own personal daemons and grief process. While watching this I found it difficult to even try to understand what these people are going through with such a loss. The blame, the guilt, the hope and the list goes on. And we see how everyone has their own means of dealing with it. This must be so unbelievably difficult.
On the other hand, we also see positive healing in an unexpected manner. Tommy, the son who never followed his father’s military footsteps and instead went the criminal route, finally finds responsibility, a purpose and a way of rebuilding his life.
But then, Sam comes home. And things become even more difficult. The effects of Sam’s traumatic and extreme experiences (I won’t go into the details) are of course felt by all. And once again, an entire family must rediscover itself, it’s purpose, redefine relationships and question everything they thought they stood for. It almost becomes even more challenging because when presumed dead, Sam’s family had some means to move on and rebuild. But will him back that normalcy falls away. Relationships are tested. And we are reminded of the emotional impact of war. The ever-lasting after-effects. How, when the physical scars heal, those mental ones are barely, if at all, heal-able. I cannot imagine that anyone can ever fully recover from experiences such as Sam (and countless others) have.
Sam’s final line sums it all up perfectly: “Only the dead have seen the end of war. I have seen the end of war. The question is…can I live again?”. And that’s the sad thing…the lives that are ruined.
Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal as always, deliver stellar performances and even Tobey Maguire is superb in his role, earning a Golden Globe nomination. Overall, absolutely worth watching but as I said, this is a heavy one.