The independent London newspaper

Bruise brothers’ Sisters act in the old West

Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly star as grizzled killers sent out on missions by a mysterious gangland boss, in almost perfect modern Western

04 April, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in The Sisters Brothers

Directed by Jacques Audiard
Certificate 15

THE aroma of pine logs on the trail fire, the sweat of months in the saddle with little chance to wash your aching body or change your clothes, the gun grease, the frying slabs of ham, the horse hair, the whisky… this Western, by Rust and Bone director Jacques Audiard, is heavy on the atmosphere.

That it creates such a feeling is matched by a terrific storyline and a leading cast of four who swagger through each scene like they’ve just shot their way out of a million high-noon showdowns. This is a splendid two hours spent in the old West.

Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) and Eli (John C Reilly) are the Sisters brothers, grizzled killers sent out on missions by a mysterious gangland boss called The Commodore, to knock off those who have wronged him.

They are bounty hunters in the employ of this man, and are well chosen for their work: Charlie has a psychopathic streak inherited from his drunken father, while Eli is the more thoughtful older brother, mainly there as his sibling’s protector.

They are on the trail of gold prospector Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), who is using a new technique of mixing chemicals in rivers to highlight where seams of the good stuff may lie, instead of the usual panning technique.

Tracker John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) has found him – and at first is riding along with Hermann as he waits for the killers to catch up as they head westwards…

The four have different strengths and capture scenes in turn: Harris’s philosophical outlook, Hermann’s brainy loner in a world of the illiterate gun slinger, and then the brilliant dynamics between the two Sisters. Charlie’s violence also reveals a man scared of the world. Eli, on the other hand, gives us comic potential with his discovery, for example, of a new-fangled invention called a toothbrush.

What transpires is the almost perfect modern Western. The classic elements are here: Philip French said they need “the pounding of hooves and the crack of Winchesters” to be considered such – something this film has in abundance – plus a plot that draws in seminal aspects such as revenge, bounty hunting and brotherly love (women are almost 100 per cent absent).

It has some hilarity too – not just through the situations and to-ing and fro-ing of the leads – but also the use of the name Sisters. It is a trick we saw to good comic value in the Coens’ recent Ballad of Buster Scruggs. For some reason using a moniker that piques the interest, as Charles Dickens always did, builds a character up in the viewer’s eyes before they open their mouths.

Above all, we have four excellent leads, a well-crafted narrative, beautiful scenery, tension and laughs. This film represents much of what I go to the cinema for.


Share this story

Post a comment