'The Sisters Brothers' Review
'The Sisters Brothers' is one of the more creative westerns of the modern era.
Release Date: September 21, 2018
MPAA Rating: R
In 1850s Oregon, a gold prospector is chased by the infamous duo of assassins, the Sisters brothers.
Director: Jacques Audiard
Screenwriter(s): Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain
Producer(s): Pascal Caucheteux, Michael De Luca, Alison Dickey, Megan Merkt, Cristian Mungiu, John C. Reilly
Cast: John C. Reilly (Eli Sisters, Joaquin Phoenix (Charlie Sisters), Jake Gyllenhaal (John Morris), Riz Ahmed (Herman Kermit Warm), Rebecca Root (Mayfield), Rutger Hauer (The Commodore), Carol Kane (Mrs. Sisters)
Editor: Juliette Welfling
Cinematographer: Benoit Debie
Production Designer: Michel Barthelemy
Casting Director(s): Francine Maisler
Music Score: Alexandre Desplat
Joaquin Phoenix is having one hell of a 2018. He’s starred as a sensitive hitman in You Were Never Really Here, and as a quadriplegic cartoonist in Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. He’s even played Jesus in Mary Magdalene, although it’s unclear as to when American audiences will see it, if ever. And that’s not even counting his filming of The Joker that is happening right now. But wait, there’s more; he also plays a murderous cowboy-with-a-conscience in The Sisters Brothers.
The Sisters Brothers stars Phoenix as Charlie Sisters, a cowboy who makes up the titular duo along with his fellow cowboy brother, Eli (John C. Reilly from Kong: Skull Island and The Lobster). The brothers are hired assassins who mostly work for a man known only as The Commodore (Rutger Hauer from The Hitcher and Blade Runner). Their newest assignment is to track down a gold prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm (Nightcrawler‘s Riz Ahmed). The Commodore has sent a scout named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal from Prisoners and Demolition) ahead to track the elusive man and report back to the Sisters Brothers. As Charlie and Eli follow behind, their mission becomes more complicated when they learn that Morris has befriended Warm, and that the pair may now be working together.
The English language debut of French Director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet), The Sisters Brothers is based on a novel by Patrick DeWitt (Terri). Adapted for the screen by Audiard and his trusty writing partner Thomas Bidegain, The Sisters Brothers is a pure revisionist western, with no black and white heroes or villains, just characters who are painted in shades of grey…and with lots of blood, pus, and vomit.
Just because there are no clear-cut protagonists and antagonists does not mean that there isn’t any conflict in the movie. On the contrary, there are lots of good old fashioned gun fights and plenty of cowboy butt-kicking. But it’s not just shootouts in the middle of the dirt road. The alliances shift and the trust factors changes throughout the film, so much so that the audience actually forgets to worry about who’s good and who’s bad, and just has fun watching.
There is one word of caution about The Sisters Brothers, though. It may not be your father’s John Wayne type of western, but the pace is similar, and a lot of time in the film is spent riding horses and drinking whiskey. It’s never boring, but The Sisters Brothers is not wall-to-wall action. It is, however, a thoroughly engaging movie, and one of the more creative westerns of the modern era. It’s worth seeing, even if you’re tired of seeing Joaquin Phoenix’s face everywhere.
The Sisters Brothers is a revisionist western, but it is, at heart, a western, and it looks like one. The film is set in Oregon and Northern California, but it was shot in Romania and Spain by Benoît Debie (Spring Breakers, Irreversible), who lets his camera soak up the stunning scenery and jaw-dropping locations. The Sisters Brothers has a very natural look, as if everything was lit with natural light whenever possible, resulting in shadows and dark spots which, although they hide some subjects and details, make the photography that much more authentic. It’s a very organic look for a very organic movie.
Score and Soundtrack
Prolific Hollywood composer Alexandre Desplat, who has scored everything from Argo to The Shape of Water, wrote the music for The Sisters Brothers. His score is as versatile as a western soundtrack can be, with segments featuring everything from softly pounded pianos to quickly plucked guitars, from thumpy acoustic basses to full-blown string sections. Whatever orchestrations are used, Desplat’s score goes everywhere from somber and emotional to heart racing and blood pumping, sometimes within the same scene. It’s not as grandiose as a typical Desplat score, but that may be why the composer does movies like The Sisters Brothers; it sounds like he’s having fun fitting his unique style into a distinct genre.