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War Film Brothers a Family Trauma Drama

Jim Sheridan's remake of Danish director Susanne Bier's 2005 original on the familial and psychic trauma caused by Operation Enduring Freedom feels like Operation Endurance. Marine captain and stalwart head-of-household Sam (Tobey Maguire), married to his high school sweetheart, Grace (Natalie Portman), and proud pop of two adorable daughters, returns to Afghanistan for a fourth tour of duty just a few days after Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), his no-good kid brother, leaves the pokey. Sam survives when his helicopter crashes and is held captive by the Taliban (torture by radical Sunni Muslims has become a specialty of screenwriter David Benioff, who wrote the adaptation of 2007's The Kite Runner). The folks back home don't know that Sam made it, so Tommy mans up, ice-skates with his nieces, renovates his sister-in-law's kitchen, and gives her a smooch. Sam returns home (New Mexico does double duty as Anonymous Small Town, USA, and Afghanistan), looking and acting more and more like Travis Bickle. Sheridan, repeatedly drawn to family sagas, including his own (2002's In America, which also featured two cutie-pie little girls), aims for Greek tragedy but ends up with a PTSD melodrama, with Maguire able to produce slobber almost as effortlessly as Portman can summon tears — essentially all her role calls for.

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Melissa Anderson is the senior film critic at the Village Voice, for which she first began writing in 2000. Her work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.

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