The Sisters Brothers is meandering yet gripping. Beautiful yet gritty. Poetic yet blunt.
Perhaps I should preface the following by letting you know that The Sisters Brothers wasn’t just my most anticipated film of the fest, it’s been my most anticipated film for a long time, period. My love of the western genre brought me to Patrick deWitt’s novel several years ago. I devoured the picaresque story about a couple of weathered hitmen in 1850s California contemplating putting down their guns for chisels and gold pans. And when I was finished, I devoured it a second time. The unconventional narrative showcases action, humour, and lilting dialogue that felt very influenced by the Coen brothers’ 2010 True Grit adaption.
It didn’t take long for the movie rights to get acquired by John C. Reilly’s newly minted production company. His lumbering size and honest face make him the perfect fit for the sensitive brute, Eli Sister. When it was announced that Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Dheepan) would be directing, and that Joaquin Phoenix was playing the other Sister brother, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed rounding out the rest of the cast, it all sounded too good to be true.
Needless to say expectations were high, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. Audiard is faithful to the source material while also contributing his own European sensibilities. Plenty of blood is spilled, but anyone hoping to get a traditional shoot ‘em up western will not find what they’re looking for here, as The Sisters Brothers is peerless in the genre. Instead what we’ve been given is more akin to an arthouse film made by some of today’s greatest talents.
My only criticism would be that Reilly and Phoenix don’t seem to go as deep into their characters as we’ve seen them do in their collaborations with directors like P.T. Anderson. For the first part of the film, their story is told parallel to Gyllenhaal and Ahmed’s, who are actually the stronger pairing. They already played off each other brilliantly in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014), and their roles here can almost be seen as a kind of reversal of that established dynamic.
So if this is the first time you’ve heard of these siblings whose brutality is matched only by their thoughtfulness, I envy you, as you only have a month to wait to see them in (in)action. The Sisters Brothers opens October 5th.