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Missing in Action

"Brothers" turns important topics and impressive performances into very little.

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Beware suburban furnishings minding their own business: Post-traumatic stress disorder has found its way to Hollywood — in this case the drama “Brothers,” a remake of a 2004 Danish film — just in time for Oscar season.

Directed by Jim Sheridan (“In the Name of the Father”), Tobey Maguire plays Marine Capt. Sam Cahill, who goes from stable, loving, family man to wild-eyed, skeleton-thin guy beating up his kitchen in less than a year. It wasn't the insanely high grocery bills that made Sam so upset but service to his country, which resulted in him getting shot down and presumed killed in a remote part of Afghanistan.

His return is unexpected. They had a funeral back home and his wife, Grace (Natalie Portman), and his brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal), became closer. Sam's kids like Tommy more now. Upsetting ideas drift through Sam's mind.

Maguire is riveting in the performance. Even bedecked as he is in rather obvious-looking crazy clothes — no one in his right mind tucks his shirt in that tight — the performance is his, drawing us in and threatening us with a danger seldom found at the movies.

Unfortunately there isn't much more going on, and what is — topical subject matter and an array of hot, young talent — never coheres.

Portman, who does sexy, mysterious or glamorous with ease, is severely miscast as a housewife, and she and Gyllenhaal (who does bear an odd brotherish resemblance to Maguire) aren't given much to do anyway. Somewhat embarrassingly, Sheridan leans on even the younger actress, the adorable Bailee Madison (“Phoebe in Wonderland”), 10, who as Sam's frustrated young daughter, Isabelle, demonstrates that her impressive and precocious acting talent far exceeds the director's willingness to administer it judiciously.

We understand the unfortunate effect Sam's condition has on the kids long before Isabelle's second or third soliloquy, but “Brothers” trots them out and back with all the other ideas and acting displays, interesting elements of some potential story it never quite figures out. (R) 110 min. HHIII

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