The Sisters Brothers is a 2018 Western dark comedy directed by Jacques Audiard. It is based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt (which I have a review of here). The story follows Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly), two brothers and hitmen who work for the rich and powerful Commodore (Rutger Hauer), hunting down people who “steal” from him. The two are tasked with finding Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist heading to California to prospect for gold. John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is already tracking the man as a scout, leaving postage behind so the Sisters brothers can pursue. What follows is a humorously strange odyssey through the West, during which their relationship as brothers is tested and they wonder if they can expect anything more from life than danger and death.
The dynamic between the Sisters was excellent, capturing a strained yet loyal relationship very well. Eli, the older of the two, is the film’s perspective character between the two. He’s just as deadly as his brother when he needs to be, yet he’s got sentimental streak to him that makes him more endearing, if a little awkward. The life they lead seems for someone of a harder disposition, but his commitment to looking out for Charlie keeps him on the path. For his part, Charlie is more drunken, juvenile, and short-tempered. He often teases Eli’s compassionate side and has disdain for the idea that Eli is taking any sort of care of him. Despite his rough edges, his brother’s company is clearly important to him as Eli’s suggestions of leaving the life, which Charlie does not want, left him looking noticeably hurt. There were numerous great little moments like these in the film, whether getting on each other’s nerves, working together, or just hanging out at rest or on the road, it was a great brotherly relationship.
The story was largely character focused, cutting between the Sisters’ journey and John Morris following Warm. The latter two become friends as Morris becomes closer with the man in order to track him more easily, but this changes things as their newfound friendship begins to compromise Morris’s mission, especially with the knowledge that the Sisters will likely torture Warm before killing him. Warm has come up with a chemical compound that, when added to a body of water, makes any gold-bearing rocks glow faintly. The Commodore wants this for himself, which is why the Sisters are in pursuit. While the Commodore merely wants the formula to expand his wealth and power, Warm dreams of building a more utopian community in Texas, financed by the gold, that is meant to get away from the greed and violence he has encountered so often in the West.
The film has many of the familiar trappings of the Western genre, with hitmen seeking notoriety, explosive gunfights, the harshness of the wild, drunken debauchery, and more, but at its heart is a story of men wondering if they can change, whether Eli’s desire to leave the life and open a store, Charlie’s ambition to replace the Commodore, or Morris’s realization that he has made life decisions based purely on hatred for his father, each wants something more that they’re not sure they can reach. The Sisters are especially haunted by memories of a drunken, abusive father, whom they wish they were better than but fear they are tainted by their relation to him. This speaks nothing of the unexpected circumstances that force change and the importance of how the characters adapt to them, for better or worse.
I appreciate comedic takes on certain genres that don’t take the edge away from the world they’re inhabiting and The Sisters Brothers does that with the Western really well. The antics, banter, and misadventures of the two brothers are often darkly humorous, but they never took away from the violence and harsh realities of living at that time or the characters’ vocations. At its heart is an affecting story that deals with people seeking change in life that they’re not sure they can achieve, even if they don’t know it yet. It’s a great adaptation of a great book with excellent casting for the two brothers that I highly recommend fans of the genre check out.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
All images are from the Internet Movie Database’s gallery for the film.