Newest Hollywood Trend: Borrowing Susanne Bier

On December 4, Lionsgate will release a film called Brothers, described as a “drama/war” film on Wikipedia. The movie stars Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tobey Maguire, and is directed by Irish filmmaker, Jim Sheridan. It’s an American remake of a Danish movie by the same title, directed by Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, Things We Lost in the Fire), written by Anders Thomas Jensen, and released in 2004.

Now why is a film that not many people have heard of from just five years ago being remade? Well, I have some thoughts on that.

On April 26, 2007, Zach Braff made the following announcement on his official blog:

What else? My dream-first choice- hero of mine – actor wants to do the next film I’m set to direct, “Open Hearts”, but I don’t think I’m gonna be able to direct it this summer as I had hoped since I’m due to be back at Scrubs on August 1st.

Open Hearts will also be an American remake of a Danish film of the same name, this one released in 2002…and also directed by Susanne Bier and written by Anders Thomas Jensen. It’s a Dogme 95 film, which in brief means that it’s devoid of all the “fancy” tricks and methods of conventional filmmaking. (You can read more details about it in another post from a few weeks ago.) Essentially, Bier’s Open Hearts is a story of a woman who cheats on her paralyzed husband…with the husband of the woman who caused the tragic accident.

The tone of Bier’s film is uncomfortable, primarily, with a stroke of raw heartbreak. It sounds like a melodrama, but it feels more like a couple’s home videos you were never, ever supposed to see.

What will Zach Braff do with this story? I honestly don’t think I want to know. But I’ll take a guess anyway – I think he’ll ruin it. I think he’ll try to capture the same effect, but while playing a Thievery Corporation song on top of it. I think he’ll cast well-known “indie” actors, and I think the film will look nice and pretty, with well-composed shots throughout. But hey, maybe he’ll prove me wrong. We’ll have to see in 2011, which is currently the estimated release of Braff’s remake.

But back to the more timely matter. Bier and Jensen’s film from 2004, Brothers (Brødre), is not a Dogme 95 film, but it still retains a candid and uncomfortably honest spirit such as in Open Hearts. The plot – again – sounds like a melodrama: When the older brother is declared dead while fighting in Afghanistan, the younger brother starts to take care of the widowed wife and her kids. Within time, the younger brother and the widow fall for each other. However, everyone’s lives get turned upside down when they find out the older brother is actually still alive.

It sounds like a soap opera, but it doesn’t feel like one when you watch it. This is the best trailer I found for the original Brothers, which might give you little insight into the tone of the movie.

What sparked this post was this trailer (Trailer 1) for the remake. No, you can’t always judge a movie by its trailer, but something already seems off about it. The scenes look almost identical to the original, but it feels like a sensational love story that turns into a thriller. “This is not right,” my mind keeps saying as I watch the preview. Hearing Natalie Portman murmur apathetically, “I thought you were dead” doesn’t help matters much either. This is how the film could turn out: forced emotion with bland, uninterested acting and not-so-subtle writing. (One of the reasons these stories worked in Bier’s films is because Jensen wrote them with the philosophy that not everything needs to be said.)

You could easily argue that these are remakes, and given that alone, they are supposed to different. They are supposed to be reinterpreted based on whatever style or mood the filmmakers are trying to achieve. This is true. But I believe these remakes are completely pointless. For one, these are not classic films. Instead, they are relatively unknown, foreign, contemporary films. They were both released less than ten years ago.

But I think Hollywood executives and directors like Zach Braff see these films and are merely struck by their brutal honesty. Then they say, “Hey, that was pretty good…I’m going to tell that story myself!” But the thing is – you’re stripping that story of the rawness and grittiness that made it good in the first place. Without these things, it just becomes another adulterous melodrama, and all you’re left with is the soap opera plotline played out by some well-known actors.

This is not about elitism, or liking something just because it’s smaller and lesser-known.  It’s about the essence of something. And when you change the essence of something unique and specifically good, it just looks like anything else.

In a few sentences? These Danish movies work because they aren‘t Hollywood. Taking something that’s great because it’s not Hollywood and then making it Hollywood? That might be the definition of “counterproductive.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I will give Sheridan’s Brothers a fair chance and see it when it comes out in theaters. I will also try to be as unbiased as possible when analyzing the film’s quality in a review. This, however, is just a rant/observation.