Growing up with only sisters (five of them), I can’t say I’ve felt that unique connection that only brothers share. Of course, brotherhood often goes beyond blood. It can be felt on the battlefield, or a football field, in law enforcement or crime, or even in friendships that date back almost to the womb. Brotherhood – at its best and worst – makes for good movies.
Growing up with only sisters (five of them), I can’t say I’ve felt that unique connection that only brothers share.
Of course, brotherhood often goes beyond blood. It can be felt on the battlefield, or a football field, in law enforcement or crime, or even in friendships that date back almost to the womb.
Brothers walk a fine line between love and hate for each other – often shoved to one side or the other of that line by jealousy or loyalty, tragedy or triumph.
Brotherhood – at its best and worst – makes for good movies.
It can unite us, make us feel a part of something special, give us something to cheer for and showcase the best of the human race.
Or it can fall apart, and show that even bonds forged with blood and tradition are breakable. When it does, it’s gut-wrenching, sometimes even frightening, and always exceptionally dramatic.
Some communities seem to breed heroes – sending off their sons and daughters in droves to fight our battles, here and abroad.
Others – like Charlestown – breed villains.
This Boston ’burb, known as “The Town,” is the bank robbery capital of the world.
Here, safe-cracking and heist skills are handed down from father to son like carpentry and car repair.
Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay, directs and stars as second-gen robber Doug MacRay in “The Town.”
Doug tried to break from his father’s mold. He had a shot at a pro hockey career but blew it – there’s a hometown hero’s display at the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club to remind him of that epic failure.
His father (played by Chris Cooper) is in prison, and has “to die five times before he can get out,” for a bank robbery and murder.
But as leader of the four-man “not (messing) around” crew, Doug feels untouchable.
If anything’s going to go south, it’ll probably be because of Jimmy (or “Jem,” as in “that one’s a real gem”), Doug’s reckless brother from another mother, played by Jeremy Renner.
Jem’s family took Doug in when his father got pinched (Mrs. MacRay has been out of the family picture since Doug was 7), and Jem did a nine-year prison stint for offing a guy looking to hurt Doug.
Doug may also be the father of Jem’s sister’s baby.
When it comes to robbing banks, Doug’s the smart one, the planner; and Jem’s the hot-headed muscle.
When Jem’s irrational rage leads to improvisation – like taking a female bank manager hostage in the movie’s opening sequence – there’s trouble.
The FBI, led by Jon Hamm as Agent Frawley, is sniffing around the hostage, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) – who, our crooks discover, lives down the block in Charlestown.
Jem thinks there’s a good chance she might be the nail in their coffins, and plans to stalk her to get a feel for what she might be able to feed the cops – and kill her if he deems necessary.
But Doug, clearly sensing his “brother’s” loosening screws, takes the task on himself.
He doesn’t expect to develop feelings for his former hostage, but the two grow close nonetheless.
Even when he realizes Jem’s fears have weight – despite the disguises, she could ID Jem from a “Fighting Irish” tattoo on the back of his neck – his instincts are to protect her.
Of course, Jem’s not happy when he discovers the blossoming romance, which has got Doug thinking again about his alternatives to a life of crime.
Doug continues to plan heists, motivated primarily by guilt and survival instincts – while for Jem, it’s about greed and power.
Doug may be destined for some greater purpose, but we get the sense that the only thing Jem’s likely to be up to is no good. As with Renner’s on-the-edge bomb-defusing character in last year’s amazing “The Hurt Locker,” nothing – certainly no domesticated, clock-punching, grocery-list life – can compare to the rush he gets from being in the thick of things.
Renner plays the Boston brute, right down to the signature clam-chowdah drawl, to perfection. His character’s dark side seems deeper and more compelling than the inner struggle of the film’s main star.
Affleck is, of course, also excellent on screen, but really flexes his muscle behind the camera. He’s proved again that his best movies (“Good Will Hunting,” in which he won an Oscar for Best Screenplay with Matt Damon, and “Gone Baby Gone,” his directorial debut) are those that give him creative control.
“The Town” is his best so far, and hopefully a sign of things to come from Mr. Affleck.
Might as well paint it red – as in hot.
Brothers sometimes cast a wide shadow.
Tommy Cahill (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been living in the shadow of his brother Sam (Tobey Maguire) all his life.
Sam was a football star in high school. Now, he’s a war hero – a captain in the Marines.
Tommy’s a disappointment – just paroled from prison after robbing a bank.
But when good brother Sam seemingly is killed in combat, Tommy’s point of view changes. He sees the light, and a chance to redeem himself.
He starts to bond with his brother’s wife Grace (Natalie Portman) and daughters Isabelle and Maggie; and even begins to earn the respect of his mean, judgmental, drunk father (Sam Shepard).
But Sam’s not dead.
As Tommy’s life is starting to turn around for the better, Sam’s getting broken down by terrorist captors in Afghanistan. He’s faced with impossible choices as he struggles to survive and return to his family.
By the time he finally is rescued, he’s a shell of his former self, and has done something that is sure to haunt him forever.
Sam’s family hardly recognizes him – his daughters are terrified of him and his wife can’t get close enough to hold him.
He forces a smile every once in a while, but it hardly resembles a smile at all.
And he’s convinced that his brother and his wife have been sleeping together.
It’s not true, but in his tortured state of mind, he can’t shake the image.
As he fakes his way through daily routines, you can almost hear the ticking of a time bomb about to go off.
The question is who’s going to take shrapnel when it finally does.
Maquire is raw and dark in this role – it’s a far cry from Peter Parker and Spider-Man – and Gyllenhaal, like Tommy, grows on you.
But the quiet, numb suffering of Portman’s Grace is the glue that binds “Brothers” together.
Part drama, part tension-filled thriller, it grabs you and rarely lets go.
TRAILER TIME: 'THE FIGHTER'
“Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is “The Fighter.” And his brother (Christian Bale) is in his corner.
Amy Adams plays the love interest in what looks to be a gritty tale of adversity – in the boxing ring and out of it – by director David O. Russell, who previously directed Wahlberg in the quirky “I Heart Huckabees” (2004) and the war drama “Three Kings” (1999).
Bale has gone noticeably gaunt for the role of Dicky Ecklund – transforming his body much like he did for 2004’s “The Machinist.” As his brother’s trainer, he’s often a dead weight – a screw-up who does as much to drag his brother down as lift him up. But his rebound is directly tied to boxer Micky Ward’s Rocky-like rise.
Strap on the gloves Dec. 10.
Contact Robert McCune at Robert.McCune@IndeOnline.com or 330-775-1124.