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Brothers vs. Brothers

by Anne Thompson
November 23, 2009 3:45 AM
4 Comments
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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.

4 Comments

  • donny persons | November 27, 2009 10:12 AMReply

    maybe the problem is the audience that the remake is aimed at.

    I saw the original danish film at the Nuart theater in LA. In a film industry city, LA, one would expect people to seek out art films; yet few of my contemporary film artists saw the movie. I imagine even fewer Americans saw the movie and fewer yet americans who are families of that had sons, husbands and brothers in the military at that time(2004) saw the film. Why? is it just not interesting to them?

    Hollywood can solve that problem. The stars, director and producer are on board to solve that problem and get their audience in those seats. The draw back-watered down cinema accessible to people with watered down tastes.

    When audiences want to see truth in art, cinema that is, "...scaryintense..." then hollywood will finance more films that depend on , "...subtle character work."

  • Garth Franklin | November 26, 2009 4:07 AMReply

    This has always been a problem with many Hollywood remakes of foreign dramas. Even with good writers and directors onboard, a film like "State of Play" pales in comparison to the original British mini which has far more realism, nuance, natural performances, depth and wit.

  • Dave Taylor | November 23, 2009 9:59 AMReply

    This is an interesting film because I'm with you, Alan: I saw the trailer and it was scaryintense. In fact, I have no desire to see the movie based on the trailer. :-|

  • Alan Green | November 23, 2009 8:09 AMReply

    i saw a trailer the other day -- it was a punch in the gut. hoping movie works as well.

    have to agree, hollywood doesn't do subtle character work very well. reading the write up i'm reminded of the character-driven swedish vampire movie 'let the right one in'. i still haven't seen it but the snippets i have seen have that natural character rhythm that european actors/directors do so well. hollywood is currently remaking this as 'let me in' -- the on-the-nose title doesn't bode well. i'm bracing myself for a by the numbers hollywood thriller with little depth of character

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