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Brothers

Apart from the script, a film thrives due to the performances.  If one or the other are below par there is usually nothing that can save it.  When both are of a high standard then it makes for very pleasurable viewing.  Not that you could call Brothers a ‘pleasure’ due to its themes, but the excellent acting and first rate screenplay prove an effective movie can work due to the genuine passion imbedded within.
Marine soldier Sam (Tobey Maguire) is about to head off for a tour of duty.  First he must collect his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) from jail.  Finishing a sentence for robbery, Tommy reluctantly re-enters society.  Forming a shaky bond with Sam’s wife Grace (Natalie Portman), he slowly confronts his wayward existence.  This comes into stark focus when Sam is pronounced dead after a plane crash.  Mourning the loss, the family attempt to move on not realising he has been captured by enemy forces.   Eventually rescued, his home-coming puts the brothers through the ringer where blood ties become sorely tested.  
This powerful film examines the role family plays in our lives.  Seemingly polar opposites, Sam is the ‘decent family man’ of the group while Tommy’s ‘black sheep’ tag hangs over like a dark cloud.  This is especially true with his dealings with his father Hank, a former soldier played by Sam Shepard.  Obviously favouring Sam over Tommy,  Hank is forced to re-think his feelings after Sam’s ‘death’.  In fact his apparent demise proves a catalyst for the clan to sort out long buried issues and re-adjust their roles in the familial unit.
When Sam returns they are forced to adjust again although this time things can never be as they were before.  All of this is played with remarkable skill with Jim Sheridan’s steady direction a huge plus.  Thankfully resisting the temptation to underscore the varied emotions with music, he instead allows the acting to speak for itself with some raw emotional intensity.  It’s good seeing a film managing to actually surprise the viewer but not taking an obvious route as the writing seems determined to be as natural and honest as possible.
While the big films get the Oscars and the glory, there are always smaller ones just as worthy of praise.  Brothers certainly is in this category with a thought-provoking and well written piece with a great acting ensemble.
Rating out of 10:  9

Dear John

You have to feel sorry for director Lasse Hallstrom.  Since arriving in Hollywood from a successful career in Swedish films, his output since has garnered praise.  From What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to Chocolat, his skills have drawn something unique from their interesting tales.  Sadly it appears his time in tinsletown has smothered his capabilities as in his latest Dear John.  Filled with enough tears and trauma to sink a daytime soapie, the thought of a once fine director helming this is enough to make anyone weep.
On leave from his Special Forces unit, soldier John (Channing Tatum) meets Savannah (Amanda Seyfried).  Attracted to her winsome charms, John finds temporary escape from his military duties.  After a long summer romance, he returns to his tour of duty, promising to write to her during his 12 month deployment.  Over that time their bond deepens despite the spectre of familial dramas which threaten to drive them apart.
Novelist Nicholas Sparks appears to have become an industry unto himself.  Almost rivalling Mills and Boon with his romantic best-sellers, Sparks’ books are like the mundane crime procedurals populating TV screens.  First there is the basic boy meets girl routine, then the romance followed by the tragedy.  Add to the mix violins and lots of anguished looks and you have Dear John.  If you’ve seen his other film adaptations such as Nights In Rodanthe, you’ve seen this one as there is nothing new to his generic formula.
Tatum and Seyfried certainly make a beautiful couple which is indicative of the film overall.  It’s perhaps just as well every shot is framed with a golden lushness as the acting and dialogue are less than memorable.  Nobody is in any danger of winning Oscars here, as Hallstrom directs each scene as if pushing the expected emotional buttons without much enthusiasm.  This is a fairly lazy film, with its mechanical wind-up toy nature wringing every last morsel of sincerity from its crude contrivances.  Although the idea of young lovers still putting pen to paper seems quaint in this technological era, an old fashioned slant making Dear John feel even more antiquated.
When you plonk your money down to see a formula film such as Dear John, you go in knowing what to expect.  In this respect it doesn’t disappoint as anything approaching originality is discarded in favour of serving up slushy schmaltz.  One hopes Lasse Hallstrom re-discovers his directorial mojo before another career destroying venture drags him further down the hole of stifled creativity.
Rating out of 10:  2