The Sisters Brothers: A Solid Revisionist Western
Jacques Audiard’s first English language film, The Sisters Brothers, is a lighthearted Revisionist western with a brutal streak and an aim as sharp as its wit. It embraces the conventions of the genre while gleefully subverting expectations, promising action, comedy and solid performances from Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.
Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) are brothers and bounty hunters, who find themselves on a journey that will test the deadly family ties that bind. But, can it also be the path to rediscovering what remains of their humanity?
Despite being plunged into the narrative through an opening shootout, The Sisters Brothers doesn’t sweep you up into the story from the onset. It takes a bit of time to get a firm grasp on the characters and their relationships, but once you warm up to their personalities, you will be rewarded with a highly entertaining ride through the old west full of surprises. There are lots of twists and turns, filled with shootouts and camaraderie, and despite the brutal streak that runs over the film, it finds a sweet note to end on.
It’s essentially one long chase that continuously evolves as the story progresses, but at its heart it’s about the brothers’ relationship and how they wrestle with the notion of hanging up their six shooters. That said, The Sisters Brothers is also a hangout film in every sense, and due to the strong performances, it creates characters that you just want to drink in.
The film really hinges on Reilly and Phoenix’s relationship which feels lived in and emotionally charged, but Gyllenhaal and Ahmed are both given their own opportunities to shine. Each actor shows up here and gives a commanding performance in their own right; Reilly sells the humorously awkward situations with a stoic straight-face, Phoenix delivers as the unruly drunkard, Gyllenhaal nails the confident air of his learned scout, and Ahmed gives his fairly 2 dimensional character some much needed depth. However, it’s John C. Reilly who is the standout here; his performance is stuffed with the right sense of melancholic pathos and humorous wit.
Narratively, the film moves at a very leisurely French pace, but it's two-hour runtime feels pretty breezy due to the evenly distributed shootouts and camaraderie that take place. Audiard’s approach is calculated and modest; he has no desire to glorify the old west and bends the genre by examining the fragility of his male protagonists — in a Q&A at TIFF he said the trick was "to treat men as if they were women.” Despite the story’s minimalism, Audiard’s (and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain) manage to pack in some delightful curveballs and set up some pretty fantastic scenarios that are accentuated by subtle metaphor (keep your eyes on the horses) and crisp visual poetry of DP Benoît Debie.
Underneath Audiard’s compellingly subversive take on the genre, there are all the hallmarks of a classic western, creating a felling of familiarity while bringing its own sense of fresh style. It may not be quite what you expect, but it sure is one helluva good time.
Rating: 4 burning barns outta 5.
What did you think? Did you love The Sisters Brothers? Did it surprise you? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!