By Adam Ray Palmer
Venezia75 is spoiling us with two western epics this year. First, we had Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and now we have Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers.
I’ve been a fan of Audiard’s work for a few years, largely A Prophet and Dheepan, so how would his first English-language film fair?
The story follows Eli (John C Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) in 1850s Oregon. The hitmen brothers are on the trail of a prospector, Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) who has stolen from their boss, The Commodore.
Audiard uses this film as a storytelling exercise for the audience, to teach them how greed will only get you so far and how collaboration will get you further. Charlie and Eli Sisters are after a decent life, but Charlie has decided their fate. Charlie chases the money, and this means committing murders for The Commodore who pays them for their duties. Eli tags along out of loyalty to his brother, to make sure they both stay alive. Eli isn’t one for the killing, he longs to pet horses and return home.
We first meet the brothers in a shootout, where we see their talent for gunslinging, slaying at least 6 or 7 cowboys. We immediately paint a picture of men that have little morals, paid assassins who are on the hunt for something; that something is John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal). Morris is on the tale of Warm, the man with the golden formula – literally. Ahmed’s Warm is a chemist by trade and has conjured up a formula that when poured into calm river waters in San Francisco where gold is in abundance, the lucrative pieces show up clear as day for collection. Morris learns this while travelling with Warm, keeping him by his side so the Sisters can catch up and kill him for The Commodore. Whilst sceptical at first, Morris soon allies with Warm, so they can share the riches, and in turn save Warm’s life.
The Sisters Brothers are not best pleased with that decision, as it puts them on a wild goose chase. They must kill or be killed. When they catch up with Warm and Morris, it’s all not as it may seem. Does greed take over? Can the brothers be reasoned with? It’s a two-hour story that begs the question; what would you do for family when profitable prizes are in front of you?
You can certainly tell this is an Audiard film. It has the morals throughout, it constantly asks questions to the viewer and there’s always a character or two that you route for. What’s interesting in this movie though, you will on a character from each pairing. John C. Reilly’s Eli is calm, caring and an animal lover. He doesn’t galivant with women and longs for home. Phoenix’s Charlie however is a womaniser, cold-killer and shows no remorse. He isn’t dislikeable though, only due to his witty humour and his brotherly bond.
The same is said for Morris and Warm. Morris is the Charlie character who’s shrewd, cunning yet not quite on Charlie’s level of zero morals. He has a sound mind when it comes to business, but also humans. Warm is Eli’s equal. He is intelligent, gentle and has no idea how to fire a gun but would love to start a peaceful commune in Texas. When the double-pairing face off, it’s a life gamble of pontoon. Should they stick with what they’ve got? Or twist for a bigger win fall. But we all know in western tales, the bigger the win, the bigger the fall.
There’s nothing too new with this tale though, whilst he brings charisma to the killer brothers, he also has on show the caring bond between them. But we have seen this time before, most notable in Django Unchained. It’s that mix of black comedy and moral questions. The Sisters Brothers (film) is a fun watch, and leaves you feeling the importance of having a home. It also teaches you greed isn’t everything, it’s better to share your riches whether personal or financial, because you’ll enjoy them a whole lot better.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 stars
The Sisters Brothers is set to be released on 21st September 2018 – certificate 15