Synopsis: In The Sisters Brothers, two killers are tasked by an Oregon crimelord to hunt down a prospector. The resulting story is a unique Western crafted by the director of A Prophet. Starring an ensemble cast and boasting excellent writing, this film deserves praise and attention.
The Sisters Brothers epitomises what the Western has become; a boundless frontier whose meaning is endless like the horizon across desert plains. Set in a land and a time hewn from violence and gruff masculinity, The Sisters Brothers doles out its fair share of brutality. Yet the film truly captivates in its unexpected episodes of tenderness, when men of blood and gunpowder do something still frowned upon today; they candidly discuss their inner turmoil.
The story begins as two sub plots stapled together in one generic chase across the Wild West. The Sisters Brothers are instructed to find prospector Hermann Kermit Warn, while private detective John Morris attempts to befriend Hermann and trap him for the brothers. The crux of both sub-plots is a power struggle, between naive Hermann and wily John Morris while the reserved Eli Sisters tries to keep his crazed brother Charlie at bay. The power dynamics are subliminally dripped into the viewer’s mind through visual cues. The most evident is distance, with John Morris observing Herman along the Oregon trail while Eli falters behind Charlie on horseback or watches his brother’s night-time debauchery.
What results is a tale which never follows any expectations, but never feels cheap because of it. The characters grow and change as the unpredictable occurs time and time again. The western backdrop fades away until violence and gold are replaced by family, childhood and the future. At the same time, the men who would have been deemed weak in the Wild West turn into the strongest. I particularly loved the character of Eli Sisters, phenomenally played by personal favourite John. C. Reilly. Beginning as an overly tender man desperate to lead a better life, he becomes something far more powerful and interesting than potential comedic relief. Most of the laughs in The Sisters Brothers do emanate from Charlie Sisters, played by Joaquin Phoenix. Still carrying some weight following You Were Never Really Here, Phoenix exudes a manic aura whose comedic moments are more often nervous reactions to his absurd behaviour. The film glows from a convergence of great writing and great acting, with the duo of Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed portraying Morris and Herman in a strange mirror image of the titular sisters brothers.
Directed by Jacques Audiard, The Sisters Brothers is visually competent while being peppered with scenes of stunning brilliance. The opening shot of a secluded Oregon farm slowly filters from pitch black to the swirling grey fog of a Monet painting as buildings and men are contrasted by gunfire. Audiard’s focus in the film is on his plot and his actors, but he still finds occasions to flex his craftmanship with a camera.
After a long spell away from the cinema, The Sisters Brothers is delightful welcome back to film.
By Saul Shimmin