Jim Sheridan has always been able to coax good performances from his actors and here he gets exceptional work from his cast. There's not a false note from anyone – they all deserve kudos for flawless work and almost overcome the predictable storyline.
Maguire is the disciplined army captain eager for another tour of duty in Afghanistan. Gyllenhaal is his ne'er-do-well brother, recently released from jail for a minor misdemeanour and consequently getting drunk in bars. Maguire leaves to fulfill his military duties and is consequently shot down and held captive in a cave in the war torn country. He is reported as dead to his gorgeous wife Portman and a funeral is held for him. Over time Gyllenhaal begins to clean up his act and starts to form an attachment to his sibling's wife. He and his buddies decorate her kitchen and her two young daughters consequently grow to enjoy his regular visits.
But in Afgahnistan, after a shocking incident, Maguire is rescued by US Ops and flown back to his home country. Now much changed by his experience he has enormous difficulty in relating to his wife and family and dramatic conflict erupts with his brother. The plot is schematic but the nuanced work from the leads is impeccable. At first Maguire might seem to good to be true, but his tormented persona on his return is very well conveyed - immensely powerful without being too histrionic. Portman is terrific too, ably showing the strife of a young mother left stranded without her bulwark. She is too beautiful perhaps but cries (and cries) convincingly. Gyllenhall is superb at playing the dishevelled and unreliable black sheep of the family, slowly taking charge of his life while growing more attracted to Portman in a subtle and unforced way. He's almost graceful in achieving his effects and and the emotional intensity the three actors impart is admirable.
Great work also comes from Shepard as the boys' father, a string willed ex-soldier, dismissive of Gyllenhaal and approving of Maguire. A scene where he is in emotional turmoil but masks it by talking about Portman's kitchen is wonderful. Equally fine are Madison and Geare as the two young daughters, trying to understand what is going on around them, and unable to connect to their father after his return. A dinner party scene in which Madison is looking for attention and then screams that she wishes her father was dead is rivetting. Sheridan maintains masterful control of the proceedings, never pushing too hard, allowing the players to breathe and take their time. Go see this movie then for its rich acting. When the performances are as impressive as this the rudimentary story can be tolerated. Highly recommended.