- Directed by Jacques Audiard
- September 2, 2018 (Venice) / September 21, 2018 (US)
- Based on the 2011 novel The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The notorious The Sisters Brothers chase after two men who have banded together to search for gold.
Given the cast I went into The Sisters Brothers with high hopes. With no knowledge of the book upon which it is based I was expecting something quirkier and just generally entertaining even knowing that this was a revisionist Western. I should learn to stop hoping like that. Usually the revisionist Western disappoints me.
In the context of the film the Sisters Brothers are employed by a rich man referred to only as The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) to go after people that have purportedly wronged him. There is the implication the brothers are unwitting enforcers or hitmen for him which they eventually come to more or less believe. They appear to have been working for The Commodore for a very long time which really makes me wonder why they didn’t come to this realization much sooner. Are they THAT stupid?
Joaquin Phoenix plays Charlie Sisters, the younger brother who is described as the more violent of the two but just gets portrayed as a drunken jerk. I will even call him a scumbag but what we get in the movie is not violent like the characters familiar with him describe.
John C. Reilly plays Eli Sisters who is the older and perhaps more thoughtful of the two brothers. For some reason despite being the older brother he’s not the leader and has a bit more of a passive personality. Phoenix and Reilly are well paired in a subpar film. They have brotherly chemistry and play well off each other. They bicker and debate believably.
The problem is that The Sisters Brothers is boring. There is a great deal of downtime in this movie as the main characters just talk and analyze their situation as well as one another. That’s fine but the dialogue moves nothing along. Something should be happening rather than a lot of talking. The dialogue should expand upon or move events forward. While the occasional bit of violence does perk things up it doesn’t make up for the long slow pace of this film. It felt like a four-hour movie.
For much of the movie the two are pursuing John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). Warm because he has a formula to use in prospecting that causes gold to slightly glow in the dark and Morris because he has joined forces with Warm rather than find him as The Commodore hired him to do. Was Morris really necessary for anything?
When the Sisters Brothers finally catch up it does not act as a culmination of anything. Somewhere you can hear the ghost of Billy Mays shout “But wait, there’s more!” and a second leg of the story started. The ultimate finale of the film was, well, quiet. And a bad ending makes a bad film worse.
And worse there are a lot of terrible people throughout this movie. There’s no one decent person. The brothers are shitty people. They are employed by a shitty person. Even the people that they are after for the duration of that film are kind of crappy people. Who cares what happens to anybody in this movie!? Nobody is minimally likeable or their actions barely justifiable.
Revisionist Westerns can be good but you should actually want things to happen next to the main characters and not hope that they die or become upset because they made it out of a scrape. And that happens here. I did not care if their torment ended. I just wanted my torment to end. But that only came with the credits.
The movie gets the loving shots of the scenery right as all Westerns should. And it really has some great cinematography. This movie certainly looks very good. But a pretty movie does not make a good movie. That is just a bonus to whatever you actually get in terms of story when it comes to film. Costuming is great here as are the general production values. They certainly put some effort into this movie to make an authentic looking and lived in the world.
Despite a good cast The Sisters Brothers is your typical revisionist Western. It’s all about terrible people and terrible things happening to them or them doing terrible things to each other. If you’re a fan of revisionist Westerns this is probably for you but for someone such as myself who appreciates older Westerns-even those with moral ambiguity in them-this is certainly not something I can recommend.