The Sisters Brothers is French director Jaques Audiard’s first English language film with an amazing cast, a modern tale of pioneering souls and an adventurous spirit. Featuring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal.
I think I’ve shared the story of the time my dad took me to see Dances with Wolves in the theater and how much I liked the openness and the adventurous spirit of those who ventured into, then new territory. They were pioneers.
Fast forward 28 years, and director Jacques Audiard (Un prophete) delivers his first English language film, The Sisters Brothers which expands this week in its continued limited roll out.
The screenplay by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain (Un prophete) features the two Sisters brothers, Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) as two hitmen. Charlie is the smarter of the two and also the younger of the two. He’s brash and bold, but not stupid. Eli is the sensitive one, calculating and cool in a situation; never underestimate the gumption of either brother: their reputation precedes them wherever they end up.
In this instance, they are hot on the trail of one Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed, Star Wars: Rogue One), a chemist who has something the Brothers’ better, the Commodore (Rutger Hauer) wants. The brothers hire a detective, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) to reel Warm in. They give chase through the peaks in between Oregon and San Francisco in the middle of the Gold Rush.
John C. Reilly is magnificent as Eli in his deadpan way. He knows his marks and he knows how to accentuate black comedy with the right amount of drama too. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s second performance this year, following his splendid turn in You Were Never Really Here and he absolutely shines as a tough-as-nails, drifter who only cares about himself. (Phoenix has also starred in Mary Magdalene, which has not yet received a U.S. distributor and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot which I missed this year).
One of the most brilliant characters in the film is that of Rebecca Root’s Mayfield. The entire sequence in her brothel really defines the time the film is set in because of the way she interacts with the Brothers as well as the way Eli comes alive.
Gyllenhaal is subdued here in a good way. As a detective, he has to blend in. The most unique aspect of his character is his journal, which helps guide us through his own adventures and explains who he is. Riz Ahmed made for a convincing chemist, but his best scene is early in the film when Hermann and John bond as friends, at odds first and then as compatriots.
No matter where the Sisters Brothers go, they leave a trail of mess behind them, making for an interesting and picturesque journey along the way. Benoit Debie’s cinematography is amongst the best I’ve seen this year. Though the film is meant to portray colonial Oregon in the middle of the Gold Rush, the film was shot in parts of central Europe, where the mountainous regions are untouched by modern human development. The stunning vistas that Debie captured are still on the edge of my memory and serve as a reminder of the dangers of adventurous, pioneering souls.
The Sisters Brothers‘ screenplay, based on Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same name also speaks to modern desires of a divided society where idealists seek a utopia and gunslingers want to hold on to theirs. The story, nor the characters are wrong for wanting those things. However, utopia cannot be won simply with ideologies and hired guns are not effective without a weapon. Even in Utopia, there is always someone who wants something more; it’s intrinsic human nature. And the story rightfully points that out.
The Sisters Brothers smartly reminds us of the duality needed to keep a balance between man and desire. It takes good men with ambition on both sides to accomplish our end goals and no one says it more poetically than Jaques Audiard.
Expanding this weekend, The Sisters Brothers is now playing exclusively at the Harkins Camelview Theatre in Phoenix and other locations throughout the United States. It has been rated R by the MPAA.