by Ian Morton
The Western genre has long laid dormant under the vast landscape of cinema for the better part of 40 years. With frequent attempts to reinvent the genre almost entirely missing the mark with critics and audiences, there is a rare sense of celebration in the air when one manages to break through the ever present wall of mediocrity. The Sisters Brothers is thankfully one of these films.
As the name suggests, the story follows the exploits of Eli and Charlie Sisters – a pair of bounty hunting assassins and the notorious ‘brothers’ at the center of our title. Upon receiving orders from their mysterious benefactor ‘The Commodore’, our anti-heroes quickly find themselves in pursuit of prospector and human macguffin, Hermann Warm.
Based on the book of the same name, the plot is cleverly balanced and seemingly well adapted from the source material. While at first the opening act lays out a complicated tapestry of things to come, intelligent direction from Jacques Audiard lays out what we need to know from the heart of the screenplay, ultimately pacing the facts and spending time where it matters most.
Make no mistake here however, it’s the performances that really give the film its strength of conviction. John C. Reilly plays older brother Eli and is the true heart of the piece with ultimately the biggest character arc. With an odd echo to Ralph from Disney’s ‘Wreck it’ series, it;s hard not to feel compassion for him despite his murderous back story. The same can’t be said however for his younger gun-slinging brethren, Charlie, played excellently by Joaquin Phoenix. More Butch Cassidy than the Sundance kid, Phoenix is the brother with a lot of chat but little love for his fellow man. While the rest of the cast – which includes Riz Ahmed and All Things Movies favourite, Jake Gyllenhaal – it’s hard to get away from the fact that this is a Phoenix/Reilly team up film through and through.
There is so much to be taken from The Sisters Brothers, it’s almost certainly worth a second viewing. Stunning backdrops bookend each scene and strong performances from everyone involved raise expectations much higher that previous episodes from the genre have given to the art. It’s a film that screams to be seen on the big screen and more importantly, deserves to be!