“You guys look like two teenagers out there!” says Tobey Maguire to Jake Gyllenhaal after watching him ice-skate with Natalie Portman.
It’s this that alerts us to soldier Tobey’s suspicion that brother Jake has been having it away with his missus while he was missing presumed dead in Afghanistan. But it also highlights a problem in Jim Sheridan’s remake of 2004’s Brødre – the perceived tender age of its leads, compared to their Danish counterparts.
The central threesome in Susanne Bier’s original – Ulrich Thomsen, Connie Nielsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas – conveyed a real sense of lives lived and choices made, not to mention an emotional maturity that made its bitter cycle of betrayal and madness as plausible as it was emotionally gruelling.
In contrast Maguire and Portman look like, well, two teenagers, as credible as the parents of two daughters as they’d be playing the Obamas (even if fresh-faced Tobey is, in truth, 34 years old). And while Gyllenhaal’s straggly beard gives him a leg-up, it’s still a stretch to swallow him as an ex-bank robber fresh out of chokey.
There’s no denying Maguire, sporting the same unforgiving ’do Gyllenhaal had in Jarhead, gives his all as the traumatised war hero, or that Portman is convincingly conflicted as the temporary widow drawn to Gyllenhaal’s bad-boy charms in her hubby’s PoW absence. Yet you can’t help thinking internal logic has been sacrificed to make the movie more palatable to a younger demographic, along with some of the rough edges that made Bier’s pic such a heartbreaker.
We’re spared, for instance, the full brutality of the violent deed Maguire commits while a captive of the Taliban. Events are also clumsily telescoped, not least the speed Nat goes from funeral black to fireside tonsil-tennis.
Where Brothers does succeed is in the casting of the aforementioned daughters. Sheridan knows how to get great performances out of children, and the ones he coaxes from Bailee Madison and Taylor Geare are as fine as anything in In America.
A sudsy remake that soft-soaps its tougher inspiration. The A-list stars go for it, but are 10 years off doing the story justice.