The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Audiard, dir. and co-script w/Thomas Bidegain based on the novel by Patrick DeWitt
Starring: John C. Reilly (Eli Sisters), Joaquin Phoenix (Charlie Sisters), Jake Gyllenhaal (John Morris), Riz Ahmed (Herman Kermit Warm), Rutger Hauer (The Commodore), Carol Kane (Mrs. Sisters)
One of the quirkiest Westerns in years, The Sisters Brothers is an often-violent film, which is also one of the most tender explorations of brotherly love ever made. John C. Reilly, who was one of the producers of the film, stars as Eli Sisters, one of a duo of fast shooting gunmen, who along with his brother Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are working for a mysterious and clearly evil boss called The Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Like many great Westerns, it’s structured as a chase in which the brothers Sisters move as quickly as they can on substandard horseback—Eli is always complaining about the Commodore’s cheapness—to catch up with their supposed accomplice John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) and their quarry Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed).
Along the way, Eli survives swallowing a poisonous spider and the duo fight their way out of a small town called Mayfield run by the local trans-dressing (and perhaps more) matriarch, who has named the town after herself. Meanwhile the educated and pretentious Morris has become friends with Warm, a chemist who has come up with a formula to find gold in the waters of California. When the Sisters Brothers finally meet Warm and Morris, they fall in with their scheme to find gold and change their destinies. For those intrigued by the set up, the denouement is a fitting commentary on the fools who pursue avaricious ends. For others, the ending may seem arbitrary.
At any rate, it works well enough to make the film a qualified artistic success. Thanks to the terrific chemistry between John C. Reilly and Joaquin as the quarreling but ultimately loving “sisters brothers,” it should make it a box office success, too.
As Canadians, we have a special interest in The Sisters Brothers. The author of the book, Patrick De Witt, is a B.C. native, who scored a huge success when it was published in 2011. It was short listed for the Man Booker prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Governor General’s Award, The Rogers’ Writer’s Trust Prize and the Stephen Leacock Award. It’s a wonderful novel and as the Leacock Award indicates, a humorous one.
Though the film isn’t as funny as the book, it’s surely worth seeing—and not least of it because the acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard took the helm for the project. Audiard, who has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Dheepan, his film about the Tamils and the Grand Prix for A Prophet, his brilliant look at prisons and a specific prisoner, has made a fine revisionist Western.
With all that talent on board, it’s no surprise that The Sisters Brothers should be a fall film favourite.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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