The Sisters Brothers – Film Review

A stellar cast and being Jacques Audiard’s English language film debut were certainly the initial selling points for this new Western.

Whilst there is a distortion of the usual Western genre, the opening scenes transport the audience into the film’s levels of violence rapidly. Equally, the separate personalities of the brothers are established with an early insight. Charlie Sisters, as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, depicts the loveable rogue who is unpredictable, charming but essentially a violent drunk. John C. Reilly’s Eli, demonstrates the more sympathetic traits to counter his brother and is more patient and calm as a result and provides a lot of the comic relief during the film’s lighter moments.

It is this contrast between the brothers that underpins the film illustrating the family dynamics, which seem dysfunctional.

The film charts their journey as bounty hunters and the cat and mouse journey that ensues as they search for Riz Ahmed’s Hermann Kermit Warm and his recipe for gold, whilst the brothers ensure that their reputation precedes them with a trail of corpses left behind. These scenes are interspersed with camera angles through windows and mirrors which create a sense of detachment from the unfolding activities of the brothers but by the same token provide that insight into the emotions and thoughts of the protagonists which is trademark Audiard.

The visceral elements and the emphasis on the frailty of the body, to grotesque proportions at times, appear to be reminiscent of one of Audiard’s earlier films, Rust and Bone.

Despite the slow pace throughout the first part of the film, which also enables a back story to be developed for the brothers, the cinematography of the scenes within the desert is simply stunning. There are snapshots during such time hinting that all is not harmonious between the brothers as Eli harbours aspirations for a more genteel life and an escape from the brutality but is conflicted by an overarching sense of duty to his brother, Charlie.

Dream sequences feature, which are also another hallmark of Audiard combined with the illustration of the cruelty of nature when pitting man, vulnerably, against such forces of nature. One particular scene involving a spider and the aftermath is rather unflinching but extremely well shot!

As the brothers manage to trace the location of Hermann as well as his companion, John Morris, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, it would have been preferable to be privy to more of the interaction between the four competing personalities. Each character recognises traits in their opposition that have a profound influence on them but this is an aspect that should have been developed further to convince that their union was not simply motivated by the prospect of gold.

In this vein, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed’s characters do not fully live up to their potential and seem underused but perhaps this is reflected in the subtle, nuanced performances delivered by the actors as a marked contrast to the protagonists.
The absence of any prominent female characters in the film is also noted, aside from a handful of scenes.

As an English language debut, it is an epic film which is very impressive and surprisingly extremely sentimental. There remains a question, however, as to whether the final scene is a satisfying conclusion to such a tense film or is it simply too ‘carte postale’ and akin to another dream sequence as seen in Audiard’s film Dheepan.
Despite the violence due to the assassinations, there is the overall sense of sadness and regret that seems to linger throughout the film and therefore provides it with an added layer of complexity and an interesting study of masculinity.

It is definitely a must see if you enjoy Audiard’s films or would enjoy watching a different interpretation to the Western genre which is very well acted!

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