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Stars: Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Sam Shepard, Mare Winngham

Director: Jim Sheridan

Marginally better than the draggy and overrated Danish original of 2004, this largely scene-for-scene remake benefits from impassioned performances from Maguire, Gyllenhaal and Portman, with the now-star-billed Carey Mulligan in a one-scene cameo somewhere in the middle.

Shepard, as the brothers' father-in-law, and Bailee Madison, as Maguire's older daughter, are also very good.

Maguire is the straight-arrow brother who followed his dad into the army and is now fighting in Afghanistan, with Gyllenhaal as the ne'er-do-well brother has just emerged from prison, and engages in shouting matches with his father.

When Maguire goes missing in action, Gyllenhaal reforms, helps build Portman the new kitchen of her dreams and grows ever close to her and her two kids, melting her previous hostility. Maguire, of course, is not dead, but suffering in a captivity which culminates in his being forced into an unthinkable act which is to haunt him for the rest of his days, making for a disturbing dynamic on his return.

Despite the depth of the performances, the characters are edgy and only marginally sympathetic, while the constant switching of the action between America and Afghanistan robs the film of much of its forward momentum. And it's faintly irritating waiting for the eventual explosion of emotion, leading to a semi-resolution at the end.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: Lionsgate. Technicolor.
101 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 25 Jan 2010