The Sisters Brothers

Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly stars in Jacques Audiard’s nihilistic, beautiful, sweet post-western The Sisters Brothers

Film Review by Ross McIndoe | 22 Feb 2019
  • The Sisters Brothers
Film title: The Sisters Brothers
Director: Jacques Audiard
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rebecca Root, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane
Release date: 5 Apr
Certificate: 15

A kind of post-western in the vein of Slow West, Deadwood or Bone Tomahawk, Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers returns to the iconic open plains and hardy saloons of John Ford and Sergio Leone, but with the rose-tinted lens torn from the camera and flung into the mud. His film’s Wild West is a raw, unforgiving wilderness in which most towns don’t have roads let alone functioning justice systems. The law counts for very little here, ammunition and ambition for a lot. It is a place in which men like the Sisters Brothers do very well.

Charlie (Phoenix) and Eli (Reilly) Sisters are guns for hire, roaming from town to town at direction of the wealthy Commodore, leaving blood and ash behind them. Charlie is an arrogant drunk with a wild streak, proudly announcing himself in each new town just to see who will draw on him first. In spite of his giant frame, Eli is gentler in both his words and his ways, watching over his younger brother with a worried frown. He doesn’t take the same pleasure in their work and talks of retiring into a simpler life. We begin to wonder, though, if he doesn’t secretly need Charlie’s violence to justify his own; he can’t be the bad guy when his brother is so much worse.

When he’s shooting the West itself, Audiard indulges in the same painterly wide shots his predecessors used to evoke the scale and wonder of the American landscape. When he’s shooting the men who populate it, the crass and greedy fools who squander its beauty while scrambling around in the mud, the camera bobs and stumbles drunkenly, robbed of its elegance by their mean designs. The power of The Sisters Brothers is in its ability to hold these two contradictory ideas of the West together so perfectly, creating a film that is somehow at once brutal and nihilistic, beautiful, sweet and funny.

Released 5 Apr by Universal; certificate 15