The Sisters Brothers is a Western adventure with interesting characters and great performances. Once it’s over you can’t help but smile because it’s truly a pleasant experience, although this film could easily be overlooked at the end of the year. It’s a well-told story with plenty of positive elements but that’s all there is to it.
Brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are very good at what they do. The pair of assassins’ latest job is to find Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Amed), a gold prospector who owes a debt to their employer. As they travel across Oregon and California they receive letters from a detective, William Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) on the status of Warm’s whereabouts. Warm begins to notice that he is being followed; rather quickly he befriends the detective and Morris decides to end his pursuit. Eventually the four men discover that this gold prospector has quite an intriguing offer for each of them that will significantly alter the direction of their lives.
Based on the book by Patrick Dewitt, The Sisters Brothers showcases some essential components, a solid screenplay, interesting characters and strong performances. Two brothers turned assassins moving from job to job during the Gold Rush is interesting. The screenwriters, Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain created an intricate screenplay where they cleverly tied in details about their entire lives as brothers. I loved how they incorporated small details about the brothers seamlessly throughout the screenplay, like Eli carefully folding the red shawl every night or when the brothers argue about their father. Their characters are properly developed and they feel like they have a real history between them. Add two incredibly talented actors with fantastic chemistry and they become even more interesting.
Reilly’s performance is enduring as the sensitive older brother who is always protecting his younger brother. Reilly’s performance is subdued and reserved in a way that I wasn’t expecting. His is the opposite of Phoenix’s character Charlie, a clumsy drunk, reckless, boastful and arrogant. In Eli’s eyes Charlie has become an exact replica of their father, the one thing that they both hated as a child. Just like their father Eli sees that their way of living will eventually lead to Charlie’s demise. As the film progresses their relationship moves in a new direction and overall it’s a beautiful look at the love shared between these two brothers. Like most siblings they bicker and fight but in the face of dangerous circumstances they never leave each other’s side. Reilly and Phoenix both give performances that are strong and vulnerable.
Another set of characters that are properly developed is Warm and Morris. Not much time is spent with these two but that time is utilized correctly and they were perfectly cast. There isn’t an extended dive into their character backstories but the writers tied in enough details within the film’s narrative. Amed’s performance as a hopeful, idealistic man with dreams of creating a Utopian community is quite convincing. His word cadence has an alluring tone and regardless if it was intentional or not it added to his character. It’s obvious why Gyllenhaal’s Morris is attracted to his general kindheartedness. My biggest complaint would be that there wasn’t enough time with all of these characters together. Even though there is plenty of action throughout the film watching all of them together introduces a new level of energy.
There’s plenty that I liked about The Sisters Brothers but when I sit back and think about it, I can’t say that I loved it. If you find value in good writing and acting then you’ll have a good time watching. It may not stand out as one of my most memorable films this year but it’s still worthy of your time.
4 out of 5 stars
Director: Jacques Audiard Writer: Jacques Audiard (screenplay by),Thomas Bidegain (screenplay by) Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Amed Release Date: October 19th Rated: R Runtime: 2 hours and 1 minute