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The Sisters Brothers – Movie Review

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The Sisters Brothers – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

As a genre, the western is often defined by specific imagery like gunfights, saloons and deserts. It is not a restrictive genre, though, as filmmakers have frequently played around with the tropes of the cowboy movie. The Sisters Brothers seeks to use the elements of the western and yet director Jacques Audiard seems more concerned with building the contrast of these titular siblings rather than duels at high noon. Adapting Patrick DeWitt’s book, the film has quite a bit to admire with lead actors John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix showcasing a unique and oddball kinship on-screen.

Reilly’s Eli and Phoenix’s Charlie could not be more different and the actors properly display how far apart the Sisters Brothers are in their approaches. With Reilly, we see the years of trying to be the responsible older brother and how that plays into the decisions he makes. There are many great scenes of Eli by himself, thinking about what the next day brings and Reilly portrays those wonderfully. Phoenix also brings a fair amount of layers to Charlie’s drunkenness and impatience. Audiard allows for many scenes of just the two of them talking and their conversations are worth listening to. The balance of drama and humour is also well handled. One scene with a spider is sure to be etched in many a brain.

There is also humour gained from the various characters the Sisters Brothers meet on their journey. Allison Tohman gets a particularly stand-out scene as a prostitute who forms an unexpected bond with Eli. Running alongside the main plot are the escapades of Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed as a pair of gold prospectors. Their scenes aren’t quite as reviting as the ones with the Sisters Brothers, but they’re required for when the four leads eventually meet up. Audiard uses the setting of the Gold Rush to comment on greed and the ultimate consequences of that and this theme is done subtly and works with the characters already established.

Being a western, there are certainly gunfights, but Audiard is directing with the knowledge that we have seen many of these before. There’s a worthy sequence where the gunfight happens outside and we are not privy to any of it. The Sisters Brothers is also intent in showing Eli’s relationship with his horse. It’s a believable friendship between cowboy and horse, with Tub having his own emotional character arc. Being a western, you can bet the cinematographer is going to take full advantage of the scenery. Director of photography Benoit Debie revels at the opportunity with some stunning shots of the countryside. Night scenes are also filmed with the necessary use of light.

The Sisters Brothers doesn’t seek to be the traditional John Ford western and that’s okay. Just seeing two talented actors team up and interact in this setting is enough to allow for an enjoyable adventure. It’s a very character driven film with some solid surprises. The film unexpectedly takes a different approach from DeWitt’s sharp-tongued and witty novel, but it is nonetheless a respectable adaptation. While the pacing can be a little slow at points, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly give such dynamic performances, they manage to keep one’s interest even when they’re not blasting their weapons.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison