The Sisters Brothers (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir: Jacques Audiard, US/ France/ Spain 2018, 122 mins

Cast: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed

Review by Carlie Newman

A quirky title for an unusual film. Easy to follow though when you are told the names of the brothers – Eli and Charlie Sisters. With a background of the Gold Rush, it is 1851 in Oregon. The brothers are hired guns under their boss, the Commodore. The brothers, however, have very different characters. Eli (John C. Reilly) is the one who leads while Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) is the melancholy brother who drinks too much.

Into the mix step Riz Ahmed as Hermit Kermit Warm and John Morris (Jake Gyllenhall), a bounty hunter who has to capture Warm and take him to the brothers. Warm, a chemist, demonstrates his new product: going to the area where gold is found, he demonstrates his invention,a chemical which makes gold show up in the water.

It’s a real western, based on Patrick de Witt novel, which came out in 2011, but with a modern interpretation by director Jacques Audiard and co-writer, Thomas Bidegain. With great cinematography by Benoit Debie which gives a good picture of the vastness and beauty of the scenery, the director infuses the characters with humanity. What is surprising is that Audiard has chosen to direct a western for his English language debut.

The two leads not only show great chemistry together, but each actor separately imbues their character with very particular characteristics. Together they come across as cold-blooded killers with one aim, to find and capture their quarry, in this case Warm, under the orders of their boss, the Commodore. (Rutger Hauer). However, Eli has begun to question his life – what he is doing and why and how he could do something different in the future. Charlie is a very heavy drinker and appears to forget his criminal life as he continues drinking and more or less ignores Eli’s wish for a different future. We see the two brothers bonding, arguing, separating and coming together.

The separate duo of Riz Ahmed as Warm and Jake Gyllenhaal as Morris show their different characteristics when they come together to pan for gold. Warm has the other three listening to his views of setting up a utopian living society.

There’s lots of humour in the film – including scenes of getting used to a toothbrush – as well as a high body count. But it’s an interesting film with a very different slant on the western genre.