Attempting to bridge the gap between what American military personnel experience in Iraq and what their families at home understand, gung-ho personal docu “Brothers at War,” from debut helmer Jake Rademacher, provides some interesting perspectives but also veers dangerously close to vanity project. Shaped by sibling rivalries and affections, the pic allows Jake, who also stars, narrates and produces, to fulfill a youthful dream of being an elite Army guy while visiting brother Capt. Isaac Rademacher during the latter’s third Iraq deployment. Samuel Goldwyn pickup started a limited rollout March 13, courting a target audience of military families.
Although West Point didn’t accept Jake (who subsequently turned actor), his second eldest brother, Isaac, graduated from there at the top of his class. Brother No. 3, Sgt. Joseph Rademacher, earned Top Gun honors at the U.S. Army Sniper School and later served in Iraq with Isaac.
Feeling a change in his brothers and a distance in their relationship with him, Jake pitches Hollywood contacts and the military on a plan to portray his enlisted siblings’ experience, as well as the impact of their service on the loved ones left behind. Funding and permission ultimately come together, allowing Jake to travel to Iraq with a skeleton crew and embed with four combat units, but despite his privileged access, the result feels overly centered on the filmmaker.
While the pic treads standard-issue territory of the special bond soldiers feel for one another, it is notable for being one of the few (perhaps the only) to address more prosaic questions, such as where water-quaffing soldiers, badly jostled during long trips in claustrophobic, oven-like Stryker vehicles, can urinate. (Answer: into an empty water bottle.) Or where to dig a place to defecate while on secret reconnaissance missions. (Answer: not within sight of the others, who delight in taking pictures of colleagues with their pants down.)
In Iraq, the versatile HD camerawork is uniformly strong, whether capturing a firefight with insurgents in the Sunni Triangle or surreally beautiful images such as a huge flock of birds in flight after an explosion. Stateside scenes — mostly military ceremonies, arrivals and departures, family talking-head interviews or the brothers horsing around — are much more conventional.
Syrupy, pseudo-inspirational score by Lee Holdridge sounds like a cliche.