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Brothers vs. Brothers

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 23, 2009 at 3:45AM

Beware the cross-cultural remake.
4
Thompson on Hollywood

Beware the cross-cultural remake.

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.

This article is related to: Awards, Independents, Stuck In Love, Reviews, Oscars, Lionsgate/Roadside, Screenwriters


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.