David Benioff is a gifted writer (The 25th Hour). Jim Sheridan is a gifted director (In America). Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman are gifted actors. So what went wrong on the road to Relativity and Lionsgate's American adaptation of Danish writer-director Susanne Bier's extraordinary 2004 movie Brothers?
It's the risk you take when you try to transplant something that was organic to one culture to another. The original Danish script (by Bier and frequent collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen) dug into the dynamics of two brothers. When the upbeat, upstanding family man, a career soldier (Ulrich Thomsen), is lost in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, the unmotivated black sheep of the family (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) rises to the occasion to help his brother's widow (Connie Nielsen) and kids and grows into a better man. When the wounded vet, who has performed unconscionable acts in order to survive a POW camp, finally returns home, he finds that a happy family has grown up in his absence. His wife and daughters barely recognize the man they once adored. They prefer the other brother on whom they've come to depend. And all hell breaks loose.
Producers Sigurjon Sighvatsson and Michael De Luca both saw a movie that would work in America, with a war still raging in Afghanistan. They thought the central brother drama would travel. But take a carefully wrought naturalistic drama shot with hand-held digital cameras and add an American writer, Irish director and Hollywood movie stars to the equation, and a delicately calibrated souffle can fall flat. Despite Frederick Elmes' gorgeous photography and Sheridan's sure touch with kids, somehow this film no longer rings true; the tough-as-nails military Dad (Sam Shepard), skinny, stressed-out veteran (Maguire) and bewildered wife (Portman) veer toward cliche. For his part, Gyllenhaal gives one of the most subtle and nuanced performances of his career.
Here's Variety's review.