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The Sisters Brothers Movie Review

The Sisters Brothers (2018) movie poster The Sisters Brothers

Theatrical Release: September 21, 2018 / Running Time: 122 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Jacques Audiard / Writers: Jacques Audiard (screenplay); Patrick deWitt (book)

Cast: John C. Reilly (Eli Sisters), Joaquin Phoenix (Charlie Sisters), Jake Gyllenhaal (John Morris), Riz Ahmed (Hermann Kermit Warm), Rebecca Root (Mayfield), Allison Tolman (Girl in Mayfield Station), Rutger Hauer (The Commodore), Carol Kane (Mrs. Sisters), Patrice Cossonneau (Blount)


The western was declared dead decades ago, and yet there have been plenty modern entries to the genre to win accolades and draw crowds: Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, the Coen Brothers' True Grit, Django Unchained, The Revenant, Rango. Life in the Old West is simply too big a chapter of American history for filmmakers and storytellers to avoid.
The trick is making something that doesn't simply invite unfavorable comparison to the old work of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

The Sisters Brothers won't draw big crowds; it's too odd and uncommercial. But it also won't make critics trot out tired, old mentions of Duke and Clint because it stands on its own instead of remaining a slave to tradition.

The film is directed and co-written for the screen by France's Jacques Audiard, a magnet for international renown in recent years for hard-hitting dramas like A Prophet and Rust and Bone. Here, Audiard adapts a little-known 2011 novel by Patrick deWitt. John C. Reilly (also a producer, having optioned the rights back when making a film out of deWitt's first screenplay, 2011's forgettably unsavory Terri) and Joaquin Phoenix play Eli and Charlie Sisters, a pair of brothers who are really good at what they do, which is robbing and killing people in 1850s Oregon Territory.

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix star as outlaws Eli and Charlie Sisters in "The Sisters Brothers."

Audiard establishes the siblings' line of work in a shot that's long both temporally and distance-wise, showing the Sisters brothers arriving at a house in darkness and leaving it with a number of corpses and a barn on fire. These are bad men, but they have our sympathy because we don't know the men they're killing and presumably they're doing it at others' behest and the targets themselves did something bad.

The film is not at all concerned with morality or having our sympathy, but it holds onto that with its depiction of the brothers. They're different in a lot of ways. Charlie is bearded and alcoholic. Clean-shaven Eli has his long hair cut off to expose a severely receding hairline. Charlie, though younger, has just asserted himself as the leader of the duo, thus entitling himself to a greater cut of their take. This is the cause of some hostility as is the future, as Eli sees himself getting out of the business, while Charlie just sees that as leaving a job opening for partner.

The main narrative involves detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal, sporting a grand old-timey accent), whose long-distance correspondences confirm that he is in the process of capturing Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who boasts of having developed a formula that makes it easy to find gold in water. Warm looks to revolutionize mining in the height of the Gold Rush and his talk turns Morris from captor to business partner, changing the plan for the Sisters Brothers.

Eventually, all four do come together and wind up looking for gold together while fending off shots from vengeful folks on the brothers' trail. This too plays out in a most unexpected way and soon we're back to just the two brothers on the move.

A mustachioed Riz Ahmed and bearded Jake Gyllenhaal reunite to provide support and a primary gold-digging narrative.

The Sisters Brothers doesn't lend very well to synopsis, even in casual conversation. But it's a film full of appeal. That reflects the charisma and chemistry of the two leading men, the fine support offered by the prominent Ahmed and Gyllenhaal, and the direction of Audiard, which is exacting, offbeat, and original. It's a film that will elicit some head-scratching,
both from the older moviegoers that attended my advance screening and the younger ones who might be drawn in by the cast. But it has plenty of inspired and enjoyable moments.

The film is beautifully shot by Belgium's globally seasoned Benoξt Debie (Spring Breakers, Enter the Void) and interestingly scored by the ubiquitous Alexandre Desplat. Narratively, it's one of the few films that could take you anywhere and the tender, dreamlike final sequence (featuring an unexpected Carol Kane) is both hauntingly beautiful and a stark departure in tone from the rest of the film.

The same qualities that make it stand out for convention-fatigued critics may make it a tough sell for general moviegoers. However, young production company turned distributor Annapurna Pictures got their first taste of box office success this year on Sorry to Bother You, and the lessons gleaned from that platform release could help this find an audience as it rolls out slowly amidst the season's more awards-buzzy fare.

Related Reviews:
Directed by Jacques Audiard: Rust and Bone | Written by Patrick deWitt: Terri
John C. Reilly: Cyrus • Step Brothers • Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule: Seasons 1 & 2
Joaquin Phoenix: You Were Never Really Here • Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot • The Master • Inherent Vice • The Immigrant • Her
Now in Theaters: A Star Is Born • The Old Man & the Gun • White Boy Rick • Juliet, Naked • The Predator
Django Unchained • Hot Lead and Cold Feet • The Hateful Eight • True Grit • Once Upon a Time in the West • The Magnificent Seven (2016)

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Reviewed October 2, 2018.

Text copyright 2018 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2018 Annapurna Pictures, Page 114, Why Not Productions.
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