Follow Us on Twitter

The Sisters Brothers - Review

Sisters Brothers

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HAVING impressed with films such as A Prophet and Rust & Bone in his native France, filmmaker Jacques Audiard makes his American debut with offbeat Western The Sisters Brothers and delivers something that’s every bit as memorable.

Adapted by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain from the Booker-shortlisted novel by Patrick DeWitt, the film boasts a strong ensemble cast, some spectacular scenery and a surprisingly subversive attitude to its storytelling, often wrong-footing the viewer in what it’s going to do next.

And that’s in spite of a familiar sounding premise. It’s 1850s Oregon and sibling guns for hire Charlie and Eli Sisters (played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) have been tasked with finding and killing a prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) after they have extracted some valuable information from him.

But their mission is far from easy. A private detective, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who had previously been despatched by the Commodore, has found Hermann first and, rather than holding him for the Sisters siblings as per his mission, has struck a deal to go halves with Hermann on a potentially lucrative prospecting partnership.

The ensuing film could easily have played out like a traditional chase Western in the style of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid or The Outlaw Josey Wales but instead opts to mix things up a little.

Hence, while there are still elements of classic Western genre tropes, there’s also a lot of detours thanks to the number of bizarre encounters the four men have along the way, which extend to mishaps with spiders, unexpected diversions in brothels and a climactic final third chain of events that really don’t go the way anyone could have been expecting.

Wrapped up in all of this, meanwhile, are two fascinating character studies, as the Sisters brothers of the title come to grapple with their changing place in the world of the Wild West and confront their own legacy within it.

The Sisters Brothers

For Reilly’s older brother, this means perhaps hanging up his guns and finding a living that’s more honest and life-enhancing. But this places him at odds with the younger Phoenix, whose cavalier attitude to life extends to ensuring that the Sisters name (and the notoriety it brings) continues for as long as chance will allow.

The chemistry between Reilly and Phoenix is exemplary, whether they’re covering each other’s backs against other gunmen, exchanging anecdotes and supporting each other’s insecurities (many of which stem from an abusive dad) or bickering over their future. There’s is a double act comparable with some of the Western greats.

Gyllenhaal is typically strong, too, as the dapper Morris, as is Ahmed as the trusting prospector whose scientific know-how makes him an easy target for anyone looking to get rich quick. Although not commanding as much screen time, his relationship with Gyllenhaal is nicely developed.

As both co-writer and director, Audiard also allows plenty of time for the film’s themes to be explored, with man’s inhumanity to man and the nature of masculinity within the West giving viewers plenty to think about, even when the pacing threatens to become a little too leisurely around the midway point.

But it’s the film’s overall ability to continually surprise and engage, as well as the strength of its performances, that ultimately turns The Sisters Brothers into a minor genre classic in its own right. For while the lack of certain genre conventions may be frustrating for some, there is still a lot to appreciate once the dust has settled on what you may have been anticipating.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 2mins
UK Release Date: April 5, 2019