Who's In It: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman
The Basics: Brother Tobey is a dutiful Marine and family man. Brother Jake is an ex-con. When Tobey goes missing and is presumed dead in Afghanistan, Jake steps up and assumes responsibility for helping to care for Tobey's wife Natalie and their two daughters. And while the list of duties didn't specifically mandate marijuana-influenced makeout sessions with the widow, no one bothered to say it was, you know, forbidden. Bad times roll in when a tortured and traumatized Tobey comes home to people who were sort of getting used to him being dead.
What's The Deal: This is a remake of a Danish movie from a couple years back. And they could have saved a lot of money if they'd just done a really good English dubbing job on the first film, because this American version is nearly identical, right down to props and camera angles. It's the Funny Games of contemporary war dramas. And as with most Oscar-needy films, it features exactly the right amount of strong, half-mute performances that eventually turn to strong, shouty performances. Let the nominationing commence!
Chilly Scenes Of Winter: As domestic melodramas go, this one really isn't all that bad. It just creates tension in a way that I find personally annoying, by stripping dialogue down to meaningful stares instead of forcing the characters to actually speak clear explanations to each other when it's obvious to everyone watching that a good solid conversation might be in order. For example, if you ask your spouse, "Are you f#@%ing my brother?" then it seems reasonable to expect that the spouse in question might want to provide a somewhat more detailed response than, "We kissed," and that, if it were real life, most rational people would go to great lengths to provide a sturdy defense of their own character. But this is the kind of film where a we-have-to-talk moment would halt the story in its tracks and you'd never get to the part where Tobey Maguire goes crazy-eyes with a baseball bat.
Personality-Free Direction: In keeping with the identical-cousins vibe, director Jim Sheridan follows Danish director Susanne Bier's lead (it's based on her movie Brodre) by keeping his distance all the way through. The only moment he allows for the monumental waste of war to really insinuate itself into the story is a scene where the camera pulls back while scarred vet Maguire walks through a military cemetery and it's filled with hundreds of the same grave markers, every stone representing the same pain he's enduring multiplied thousands of times over.
The Next Dakota Fanning, Coming Through: Be on the lookout for an unnerving performance from a 10-year-old actor here. Her name is Bailee Madison and she was already strangely impressive once as an outspoken, agnostic 5-year-old in the weird kid's film Bridge to Terabithia. She's one of those child actors who spooks you with her gravity.