Film Review: Sister Brothers

Nature, Nurture & Bullets

From the very name to the very last rolling end credit there is a distinct and embracing gleeful quirkiness about the latest tale from French director Jacques Audiard. Arriving in the form of ‘The Sisters Brothers’ (2018), the oddness of the name is a perfect appetiser for what is a truly beautiful smörgåsbord of delights, flavours, textures, acting, rapturous scenery and absolutely gorgeous writing (by Jacques himself, Thomas Bidegain and taken from the book of the same name by Patrick DeWitt), incredible ‘wonky’/jazz’ score by Alexandre Desplat, it seems like a plate of sumptuous delights, that have been sprinkled with Space Dust popping candy, it shouldn’t in theory work, but WOW, it absolutely does.

Anyone familiar with the stunning TV series Deadwood will recognise the wild west cowboy setting for ‘The Sisters Brothers’. Set in Oregon 1851 the American nation is in the midst of a radical evolution. Not only are the new immigrants racing across the plains on a quest for greener pastures, but ideally they would prefer them to be golden. The gold rush is in full swing, and the prospect of finding unfathomable wealth at the bottom of a stream is cause for the sifting out of any and all rationale in the quest for a gilded life.

Prospecting sites are discovered, tents erected, soon becoming prefabricated wooden buildings, then flexing into towns, belching to be cities. All along these previously lush landscapes, Man is smashing his alters to commerce into the already rich beauty of Nuture herself. This is dramatically changing the landscape of the country and the very minds of the people who are doing the sculpting.

It is a profound period where the past, present and future are coexisting at the very same time. The sense of profound possibility is in a few, as scientific advancement and scholarly thinking is dramatically escalating in speed, yet like pockets of gold, it exists in the very rough and brutal landscape of the not so ambitious general population of chancers and murderers.

John C. Reilly (left) stars as “Eli Sisters” and Joaquin Phoenix (right) stars as “Charlie Sisters” in Jacques Audiard’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS, an Annapurna Pictures release.

This duality is beautifully represented in the two main protagonists, the actual Sisters Brothers Eli (J.C. Reilly) and younger brother Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix). Murderers for hire, generally at the beck and call of local power lord The Commodore (Rutger Hauer), whereas Eli is the somewhat emotionally evolved beginnings of the modern man, Charlie is the direction less, brutal, react, kill first, don’t actually think about it at all later kind of individual you never want to meet, especially when he’s hiding from the world he increasingly doesn’t understand in a tornado of alcohol.

The Commodore has instructed the pair to track down a supposed man of skulduggery and science who goes by the name Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). Apparently he has some extremely valuable scientific information that could change the world of anyone who has it.
Initially John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is dispatched to track down Hermann and keep him in check till the Sisters arrive.

But as the world is swiftly evolving around them, so too are the individuals that inhabit it. Like the very chemistry that Hermann uses in his new world of science, there are multiple unforeseen reactions between people when they are mixed, new elements, perspectives, and beliefs are born. It is a golden age in more ways than one.

The world isn’t as simple as it was once presented, new influences create new existentialisms, Eli sees this and knows there must be something better, Charlie in contrast finds a brutal solace in the simplistic parameters of kill, drink, fuck, sleep that he has used throughout most of his life. Eli desperately seeks the new, Charlie wants to burn it.

Despite the apparent highbrow topics of subject, this is an incredibly funny (& brutal) movie as the two main characters battle with their own placing in the world, they take it out on each other in only the way that siblings can, that generally doesn’t happen in the midst of a gun fight though.

The four main leads are incredibly well crafted disparate individuals, acutely distinct in thinking, reasoning, values and traits. All beautifully executed by each actor, every single interaction between them is an absolute joy to behold, even when that moment might be extremely brutal in nature.

Fantastic perf romances throughout, it has to be said that Reilly really takes the reins as his belief structure, aspirations, dreams and hope are more in line with contemporary ideologies, and we truly wish the best for him. Charlie the times of long past defined by his past, John Morris the timeless scholar/detective and Hermann the potential Elon Musk and visionaire of his time.

There is a seemingly wonderful random chaos of moments at play (the slightly off kilter score helps the confusion), where nothing goes as planned, either by unforeseen outside forces, nature, or just general ineptitude of individuals in controlling their own behaviour, all mixing into a beautifully unique work that carnage and poetry all at once.

Not only has one of my favourite endings of any movie this year, but Reilly brushing his teeth is one of the best metaphors ever for the dawn of a new age.

‘The Sisters Brothers’ is out in UK & Irish cinemas now.