THE SISTERS BROTHERS – A Review by Cynthia Flores
The Director of The Sisters Brothers is French and known in Europe as the master of the “polar” (French Thriller), and he brings that sensibility to his cinematic reimagining of the American Western which is his first English language film. In his version of the Wild West, it’s vast and picaresque with dangers from man and beast.
If you only go by the title and tagline on the poster “The Sisters Brothers, brothers by blood, sisters by name” then you might think that this is a parody of the western genera and you would be wrong. This is a bloody, gritty western laden with dark humor and dialogue you would not ordinarily hear in a traditional western but it’s definitely a drama first. I also loved his choice of score that was created by his regular collaborator Alexandre Desplat who gave us a noir-inspired sound with nods to the Spaghetti Westerns sprinkled in for good measure. His score is practically another character and a great one at that, setting the tone for this moody film.
The story of the film is adapted from the novel of the same name written by Patrick DeWitt. It’s set in the American West of 1851, Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) the cocky, volatile younger brother to Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) the more introverted, sensitive one both work for the Commodore (Rutger Hauer), a wealthy Northwestern magnate who has them do his dirty work. They dispose of his enemies for him because they’re hired guns that are famous for their ability to kill. The gunfights they get into are thrillingly chaotic and up close. They’re sent on their next job to find a prospector who is a chemist, Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) that has invented a chemical formula for finding gold in the river streams. The plan is to meet up with an East Coast educated scout named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who will capture Warm and hand him over to the brothers. They will, in turn, torture him and get the formula for their boss. Everything is going to plan until Morris has a change of heart and befriends Warm joining him in his plan to find the gold and use it to create a utopian settlement where the society is not ruled by greed or avarice, instead, they will pursue higher values and seek to educate their young. This place is in Texas in an area called Dallas (since I saw this film in Dallas, Texas, this line in the movie got huge laughs). So they set off to San Francisco to evade the brothers and join the gold rush to test his formula.
Along the way, there are betrayals and alliances made amongst the madness and savagery that was the West at that time. There’s a scene in the film involving camping on the open trail and a spider that will make you squirm in your seats. The Sisters brothers’ fate is inadvertently set on a new course once they join forces with Morris and Warm in finding the gold. In the end, their story segues into something much more moving and soulful. The ending is what you would hope for Eli who has always just taken care of his little brother Charlie.
The Brothers Sisters is an engaging, beautifully shot film. It takes its time on the trail and even though it has comic undertones in most of the scenes it veers into some somber, dark territory of violence, trauma, and abuse as easily as the horses saunter over the rocky terrain with these big violent men on their backs. The chemistry on screen between Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly is fantastic and complicated just like brothers in real life can be. I give this film a solid A rating and hope that this will not be director Jacques Audiard's’ last English language film.
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Written By Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Patrick DeWitt
Selig Rating A
Running Time 2hr 1min
Wide Release September 28th
Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Carol Kane, Rutger Hauer
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.