With a title like The Sisters Brothers, so called for its colourfully named leads, and supporting characters with monikers like Hermann Kermit Warm, Jacques Audiard’s western looks at first glance like a whimsical proposition. What a delightful surprise then, that it turns out to be instead something utterly sincere; exciting and wonderfully humanist. Most filmmakers look at the Old West as a place of lonely lives and violent deaths, and though The Sisters Brothers does have a fair amount of killing, it also dares to have hope.
Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are exceptional bounty hunters who find their loyalty to their employer tested on a mission to kidnap, torture, and kill chemist Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) and his travel companion John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal).
It’s a straightforward, even old-fashioned, story, but very well told. Eli and Charlie have a brilliant brotherly dynamic, their years of history made evident by confident writing and stellar performances from Reilly and Phoenix.
Their relationship is sweet – even as the more willing killer, Charlie is still the baby brother, and his quiet idolisation of Eli is very moving. One particular moment of silent brotherly pride, told with half-smiles and light touches, will stick with you well past the film’s end as a subtly brilliant depiction of sibling love. Their chemistry ensures that a day spent lazing by the river is just as compelling as any shootout or horseback chase.
With all its wide open spaces and coastal environments (it’s rare to see a western actually make it this far west) it looks great, especially at sunset, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is terrific.
A character piece first and foremost, The Sisters Brothers doesn’t skimp on style, but puts most of its faith in its brilliant actors and hugely enjoyable story.
CAST: John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed
DIRECTOR: Jacques Audiard
WRITERS: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Patrick deWitt (Novel)
SYNOPSIS: In 1850s Oregon, a gold prospector is chased by an infamous duo of assassins, the Sisters Brothers.