Adapted from Walter deWitt's 2011 novel of the same title, The Sisters Brothers, as director Jacques Audiard's first English-language film, is a beautifully told, if occasionally strangely-paced, tale exploring themes of family, greed and the Western genre itself.
John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix absorbingly bring to life Eli and Charlie Sisters, two assassins with a formidably infamous reputation. They are employed by a Commodore to hunt down a gold prospector named Herman Worm (a captivating Riz Ahmed). Set in the heat of the mid-1800s gold rush, yet adapted from a recent novel and shot with the technology available for a 21st-century film, The Sisters Brothers holds together several tensions of historical storytelling in the modern day. A creepily detailed shot of a spider (almost certainly achieved through CGI) was one of the highlights of the piece - a simple yet significant moment in a fairly straightforward story, which would have been difficult to achieve for vintage Western films.
This is a film steeped in love for Westerns, in a way that could redefine the genre: Audiard's homage simulatneously pays tribute to and undermines many classic Western tropes. Effectively employing Benoît Debie's gorgeous cinematography, the film's depiction of the Wild West emphasizes how the region has been romanticized, and yet shows it to be a gritty, hostile place. There is a healthy amount of gun fights and gore, but ultimately the biggest threats in the story come from a combination of human hubris and the uncaring natural world.
The four lead performances each held great merit, with Jake Gyllenhal's accent feeling particularly accurate, and the chemistry of the two brothers driving a lot of the film's humour. It was interesting to see a kind of role reversal between Reilly and
For me, however, the film failed to make the kind of impact that would make me want to watch it again. While there were plenty of twists, they were more plot- than character- based, so I wasn't tempted to watch back looking for clues. Additionally, the humour felt very gentle throughout, rather than laugh-out-loud funny, which, when contrasted with dramatic moments, muted rather than enhanced the emotional resonance. Still, if you enjoy Westerns and want to experience a refreshing new take, or indeed if you're a fan of the award-winning source material, then this film is a must-see.