By MONTE YAZZIE
Through the pitch darkness of night, orange flashes from gun barrels exploding into the quietness of Oregon Territory as the Sisters Brothers, Eli and Charlie, hunt and kill a group of men. Just as quickly as a fire engulfs a nearby barn, the Sisters Brothers return to the darkness, amused yet concerned about their knack for killing.
“The Sisters Brothers” is directed by Jacque Audiard, who last directed the captivating and character driven “Dheepan” in 2015. His latest film is his first English-language film and it delves into the traditional form of the American Western film.
It is a unique tale about two brothers tasked with killing a man in 1851. With picturesque backdrops, gun fights and the search for easy wealth, the motifs for cowboy storytelling are all present in some way. However, what makes “The Sisters Brothers” stand confidently is its ease with paying reverence while parodying the classic Western movies that audiences have become so familiar with.
Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are brothers who have a distinguishing skillset, they are hired killers. A man, known as the Commodore (Rutger Hauer) hires the brothers to meet a refined detective named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is tracking the brothers’ target, which is a man named Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed).
The Sisters Brothers, who attract their fair share of threats along their journeys, soon find themselves at odds with each other and anyone who tries to cross their path to find their target.
When in the hands of foreign filmmakers, the classic American design of Western film can find a fresh perspective. Take for instance the films of Sergio Leone, Ferdinando Baldi or Sergio Corbucci, who painted their versions of the West with violent strokes of betrayal and greed. Often their films are providing social commentary through their fantasies with men in cowboy hats.
Director Jacque Audiard applies some of these aspects to “The Sisters Brothers,” but in a different way. Sometimes starkly humorous and other times completely serious. It’s a balancing act that allows the film to exist somewhere in the middle of what typically defines the Western genre.
Charlie and Eli are gunslingers, but not glamorous ones like Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. The design of the film lingers through hazy hilltops and cramped forests, opposed to the elaborately composed designs for showcasing trail chases and stagecoach pursuits found in Sam Peckinpah or John Ford films.
Still, “The Sisters Brothers” amidst its deliberate pacing and shifting narrative tones is invigoratingly distinctive.
The two leads, Phoenix and Reilly, steal the show with their charming bond as two somewhat dimwitted brothers. Phoenix slyly injects his character Charlie with the right amount of reckless character traits to make the audience hate him but want to stick around to watch his next bumbling situation.
Reilly is in top form here; the sensitive and thoughtful composition of his character makes his journey fascinating to watch play out. Add Gyllenhaal flexing a tailored suit and an interesting accent, with Ahmed’s character blindly stuck in the middle as the only reliable voice of reason, and the film has enough talented ammunition to hold your peak attention.
“The Sisters Brothers” is a smartly written and keenly directed film that plays with the Western genre in very interesting ways. The narrative design wisely toys with the expectations of those familiar with cowboy tales, dodging the typical pitfalls associated with the genre.
What ultimately satisfies throughout the film is how Mr. Audiard juxtapositions the progression of the American West to the contemporary state of America. With cowboys uneasy to relinquish their guns for the betterment of society, and idealists dreaming of a society free of gun fights, stage coach robberies and bullying authority figures.
The Sisters Brothers
Dir: Jacques Audiard
Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rebecca Root, and Rutger Hauer
4.25 out of 5.00