Tobey Maguire becomes a rage hound when he comes home from Afghanistan in Jim Sheridan‘s Brothers. Consumed with self-hate over having chosen to save his own life over a comrade’s and convinced that his wife (Natalie Portman) has been doing his younger brother (Jake Gylllenhaal), he turns into something feral. His eyes go white and he uncorks it like Bruce Dern did in Coming Home, only more so.

It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time, like molten lava pouring out of a volcano and people running for dear life, but you can’t turn away. By the end of the film Maguire’s Spider-Man thing has just given up and scampered out the window. At the end you’re thinking, “wow…didn’t know Maguire had it in him.” It’s the best performance he’s ever given.

Otherwise I had believability problems with two major story points in the film.

This remake of Susanne Bier‘s 2004 original is about a younger “bad” brother (Gyllenhaal) stepping into the familial shoes of his older “good” brother (Maguire) after the latter disappears during an enemy skirmish in Afghanistan. My first problem was with the military officially telling Portman that her husband is dead when in fact he’s M.I.A. because — hello? — there’s no proof of death. The military doesn’t provide unsubstantiated information to families of servicemen, period, so this is bullshit.

All Sheridan and screenwriter David Benioff had to do was (a) have the military report him as M.I.A. and then (b) persuade us that Portman and Gyllenhaal believe that Maguire probably won’t return due to his probably being dead. That’s all it would have taken.

The second problem is that I don’t believe Maguire’s character could ever find peace with a deed we’ve seen him commit — something he felt forced to do while a prisoner in Afghanistan in order to survive. Maguire’s is one of those acts that require only one of two responses — suicide or abandoning your family and country and going off to Asia to live like a Joseph Conrad character. At the end of Brothers Maguire confesses this act to his wife, but are we supposed to assume he’ll never tell anyone else?

And why isn’t there a military debriefing scene when he comes back from Afghanistan? He would be shown lying, of course — denying, covering up — but the scene should have been in there regardless.