The Sisters Brothers is a western. As in, a cowboy movie. As in, lots of deserts, horses and guns. If you like westerns, I think that you’ll love this film, and if you don’t .. can I ask you why? Westerns are awesome. I’m talking about real westerns, the ones that truly benefit from this quality canvas to paint their cinematic art. Westerns are not just about tough men chasing and shooting each other with red indians plugged somewhere. They’re rather great stories that take place in this perfect setup. Tough times that witnessed the birth of everything that has to do with modern civilization. Law, economy, education, healthcare, transportation .. and some men chasing and shooting each other of course. It’s still cinema and it’s still expected to entertain. This is exactly what The Sisters Brothers is. A great story that makes full sense of geography and history on a macro and micro level.
Our story takes place in the American west in the year 1851. Charlie and Eli Sisters work as hitmen for a wealthy businessman called “The Commodore”. The Commodore tasks the brothers with following a scout working under his command called John Morris. Morris is supposed to track, find and keep an eye on Hermann Warm; a chemist who stole something from the commodore. Once they catch up to them, they are supposed to kill Warm and return to the commodore his property. The trip is long and all men in pursuit of Hermann Warm witness what affects their priorities and convictions.
In “The Sisters Brothers” we have 2 pairs of men separated by a few days of primitive traveling. Yet those days set all the difference in the way those men think. They set the difference between clinging to the past and aspiring for the future. It’s mesmerizing and, at times, extremely poetic. Poetic in events and in dialogue and still with great respect to the differences between the two groups of men. The sisters brothers are simple people, they kill for a living. Charlie is a drunk and a hot head, while Eli is more composed and in dire need for settling down. It’s easy to notice that Eli belongs in the civilized future though he hasn’t really seen one. You don’t expect the conversations between the two to be deep and sophisticated, and they are not. However, I couldn’t ignore just how beautiful they are, even when they are confrontational and even when they end in an ugly manner. While on the other hand Warm is a chemist and Morris is a writer of some sort. Their conversations are deep and expressive, yet filled with charm and true human emotions.
The film is definitely not all talking, it has more than a fair share of action and violence. Yet it’s also presented very artistically. Jacques Audiard, the director and co-writer, didn’t treat those sequences as breaks from a classy cinematic adventure. He rather used them to be effective dramatic vehicles. In every scene with an armed confrontation he always focuses on the perspective. Sometimes that of Eli, sometimes that of Charlie, the best of all was that of Morris and sometimes our own. It’s rarely clear or definite, but always fun to follow & very nutritious to the build up of the characters and where they stand from each other. In addition of course to how well they’re shot, lit and edited.
The film stars Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly with strong supporting roles from Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. They are all in their finest form and without any special framing for their performance. They get the suitable screen time for their characters in the events and they make the best out of them. Very difficult to single out a scene and say that this particular actor was great in it, simply because they always acted in twos. Sometimes in threes and sometimes in fours. I can’t even say which pair was better. Whenever I spent time with Charlie and Eli, I always missed John and Herman. It’s a lead ensemble as it should be and I enjoyed the few moments we spent with Jake Gyllenhaal and Joaquin Phoenix together. I think this will be regarded as history in 10 years or so.
The Sisters Brothers is one of the hidden gems of 2018. It holds a great artistic value and it’s still a lot of fun to watch. It doesn’t have any obvious problems other than maybe being a bit longer than necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve loved this story to go on forever. It’s just that it felt like it ended several times before it actually did.