The Sisters Brothers Review


Cast: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal

Director: Jacques Audiard

Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: From acclaimed director Jacques Audiard (Rust and Bone, A Prophet), and based on the novel by Patrick deWitt, THE SISTERS BROTHERS is a reimagining of the cinematic Western as a dangerous, witty, and emotionally cathartic exploration of what it means to be a man. It is 1851, and Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) are both brothers and assassins, boys grown to men in a savage and hostile world. They have blood on their hands: that of criminals, that of innocents…and they know no state of existence other than being gunmen. The older of the two, introspective Eli (Reilly) rides hard with his younger sibling yet dares to dream of a normal life. The younger of the two, hard-drinking Charlie (Phoenix) has taken charge with gusto as lead man on the duo’s assignments. Each increasingly questions, and quibbles with, the other’s methods. The Sisters brothers find themselves on a journey through the Northwest, bringing them to the mountains of Oregon, a dangerous brothel in the small town of Mayfield, and eventually, the Gold Rush land of California – a journey that will test the deadly family ties that bind. But, can it also be the path to rediscovering what remains of their humanity? THE SISTERS BROTHERS also stars Jake Gyllenhaal as learned scout John Morris and Riz Ahmed as fugitive chemist Hermann Kermit Warm.


John C. Reilly has a history of attaching himself to some very interesting projects over the course of his career.  Whether they are funny movies like Step Brothers or more dramatic movies like Gangs of New York, when you see that Reilly will be in an upcoming movie, you never really know what you are going to get.  In the case of the Sisters Brothers, you end up with something that is somewhere in the middle of the two genres. While not really a comedy but with enough funny moments to prevent it from being a full drama, we end up with something I very rarely see in theaters; a dramedic Western. With a loaded cast and shootout scenes that are at the top of the neo-Western genre, The Sisters Brothers has more than enough value for anyone watching.

The film follows Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix) Sisters, two brothers who spend their lives carrying out hits for their boss Commodore (Rutger Hauer).  For their next assignment, they must hunt down and kill Hermann Kermit Warm (Ahmed), a chemist who has developed a way to find gold in rivers without digging.  As in any Western, things do not go as planned and the two brothers must navigate the treacherous ways of Western life, both the external forces and the self-inflicted ones.  Starting off with the cast, every member of the film delivers a strong, captivating performance.  Reilly, Phoenix, Gyllenhaal, and Ahmed all thrive in their roles with each one building off the last one’s scene and doing their best to top it.  It is hard to pick out a favorite of the four, because their characters are all so unique and the performances match just how complex and interesting these people are.  Outside of the characters, the shootouts help this movie stand out as an elite Western.  These scenes feel very well choreographed and you never get that dizzy feeling from watching so much happen all at once.  These scenes are supposed to over-the-top and eccentric, but at the same time they still feel grounded in reality.  The main issue with the movie is just how bloated it feels.  At 121 minutes, it is just a hair over the 2 hour mark, but with the amount of storylines and plot development put into these characters, it feels much longer than it is.  While I believe the story progresses in a very natural and sensical way, it does not mean that everything we saw was necessary.  As I was watching this movie, I began to think of scenes that could be removed or reworked in a way that would make the film a little slimmer and more precise.  Maybe this is the intention of the director, as at most times you feel as though you are going on this multi-day journey with the characters, but there were other options available to help illustrate this point.  Nonetheless, The Sisters Brothers is still an interesting movie with a skilled ensemble cast of actors that very few movies can put together.

Overall, while The Sisters Brothers might appear to end up as a box office bomb, the quality of the movie is not reflected in the amount of money it makes.  This is a very unique film that may not appeal to a wide audience, but to those who stumble across it, you will thoroughly enjoy it.  I believe this is the type of movie that audiences will find on streaming services in a few years and say, “Why did I not see this movie when it was theaters?”  I am happy to say that I am one of those who was able to view it in theaters and I believe most people who have that experience will be completely satisfied with their choice.

Overall Score: 8/10

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