Brothers: Directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot)

“Brothers,” directed by Jim Sheridan, stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, and Natalie Portman. The film is being released by Lionsgate on December 4.

Set against the backdrop of the war in Afghanistan, Brothers examines several themes that have figured prominently throughout Sheridan’s career, including family relationships, the long shadow cast by war, and the enduring possibility of forgiveness and healing.

For his first work set in suburban America, Sheridan teams with a high-profile, award-winning cast, including Tobey Maguire (the SPIDER-MAN franchise, THE GOOD GERMAN), Jake Gyllenhaal (ZODIAC, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN), and Natalie Portman (THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, CLOSER); the august playwright/actor Sam Shepard (THE RIGHT STUFF); and actress Mare Winningham (GEORGIA).

BROTHERS is based on the 2004 Danish drama Brodre (Brothers), co-written and directed by Susanne Bier.

The film deeply impressed veteran producer Sigurjon Sighvatsson (David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART, Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER and THE WEIGHT OF WATER), who divides his time between California, his native Iceland, and Denmark.

Sighvatsson saw a connection between the narrative of Brothers and a post-Vietnam era of American films, such as COMING HOME and THE DEER HUNTER.  Those films explored “the war at home”: how war makes itself felt off the battlefield, in the domestic lives of soldiers and their families.  With that kind of intimate drama in mind, Sighvatsson set out to produce an American version of BRØDRE.  “To me,” says Sighvatsson, “this story is about family.  It’s not about killing people, but about the effect on the living.”

While Sighvatsson was negotiating with Bier in Denmark, on the other side of the globe in Los Angeles, BRØDRE had also caught the attention of Michael De Luca and his associate Zach Schiff-Abrams at Michael De Luca Productions.  De Luca was intrigued by the film’s study of two temperamentally different brothers living unfamiliar and opposing experiences: one constructive, the other destructive.

Says De Luca, “I thought the original film was a great exploration of two questions:  what are the things that build a man up in his life, and what are the things that break a man down?  For the younger, ex-convict brother, being part of a family builds him up from the brink of self-destruction.  And then the older brother, who’s been the straight arrow his whole life, what breaks him down is war, captivity, and the violent loss of moral clarity.  The two brothers almost switch places, and it was that dynamic that really attracted me to explore the story in an American context.”

When De Luca went to buy the remake rights, he found out that Sighvatsson had already purchased them.  Because the two producers viewed the material in compatible ways, Sighvatsson and De Luca decided to partner as producers on the American remake of BRØDRE.

Sighvatsson and De Luca tapped acclaimed screenwriter David Benioff (THE KITE RUNNER, STAY, TROY) to adapt the story to an American milieu.  Benioff incorporated recent American history in crafting the story of Sam and Tommy Cahill, sons of retired Marine officer who served in the Vietnam War.  The basic storyline remained the same, says Benioff.  “It’s two brothers, one who’s always followed the straight path and been the high-achieving do-gooder and never let anyone down, and his younger brother, who is kind of the ne’er do well.”

The producers began approaching directors and cast with early versions of Benioff’s script.  When they learned that Jim Sheridan was available, they were delighted.  Sheridan’s films, from MY LEFT FOOT and IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER to THE BOXER and IN AMERICA, have explored the intricacies familial relationships – the vital core of BROTHERS.  Says Sighvatsson, “Jim is always focused on the emotion. While he has an eye on the story and the actual events, that is less the thrust of the movie than the emotion propelling the characters.  That is his uniqueness as a filmmaker.”

Beginning with MY LEFT FOOT, Sheridan has portrayed characters from working class families, and he felt an affinity for the small-town Americans of BROTHERS.  “The Cahills are blue-collar, which I know.  They’re torn asunder by the war, and the film is about whether they can heal.” Sam’s harrowingly plausible ordeal in captivity adds another dimension to the film’s portrait of the human condition.   Comments Sheridan, “Sam’s experience in Afghanistan is beyond normal understanding, and that changes the story.  It’s beyond tragedy, and I was attracted by the heightened emotions that emerge from that.”