The Sisters Brothers

Director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) brings us his first English speaking movie, focussing on the brotherly relationship between two hitmen (Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly) in a western that breaks with the normal rules, delivering a tender and humorous exploration of masculinity, home, endings and new beginnings.

Adapting the novel by Patrick de Witt, Audiard brings us a film that challenges the genre and its mainstream character portrayal, whilst playing to the beautiful landscapes and rugged lifestyles of early America.

Set during the heights of the Oregon and California gold rush, Charlie and Eli Sisters (Phoenix and Reilly) are hired hit man, working for a powerful businessman the ‘Commodore’ (Rutger Hauer). Sent on the trail of Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) the brother’s mission is to take an invention for detecting gold developed by Hermann at any cost. However, their mission is complicated by a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) also hired by the Commodore to track down the brothers.

From the outset Audiard incorporates the classic themes present within the Western genre with far more nuanced characters, where backgrounds of aggression and violence are balanced against themes of brotherly love, acceptance and escape. Both Reilly and Phoenix providing beautiful character studies that challenge the normal concepts of masculinity in an eccentric tale of real creativity. In many ways, this is a road trip movie interlaced with humour and male bonding in a society of fixed gender roles and limited opportunity.

Visually The Sisters Brothers is a beautiful film, using its vista’s to portray the emerging communities of a developing Country, alongside a wild, hostile and untamed land. Filmed in Spain it achieves an amazing sense of place and time in reflecting the wide-open vistas of 1850s America. The humour of invention and longing for wealth-offering opportunity runs through its core vision, playing with notions of escape, learning and betterment, alongside a social structure that fluctuates from extreme violence to humour.

While inventive, there is a challenge in the films pacing; at times leaving the audience slightly lost in the characters journey. However, solid performances manage to ensure that these moments do not obstruct the final film too detrimentally. There is also a core problem in the division of humour and drama within the narrative, occasionally creating a slightly confused interface between comic effect and character development.

Despite its flaws, The Sisters Brothers takes the western genre and blends it with character studies that provide humour, depth and warmth; challenging a series of age-old genre boundaries. This is a film that provides an eccentric and beautifully shot journey while providing enough mainstream entertainment alongside its creativity and difference to appeal to most audiences.      

Country: France; Spain; Belgium; USA

Director: Jacques Audiard

Year: 2018