‘The Sisters Brothers’ Is Terrific And Upends The American Western


The Sisters Brothers is one of those movies that you finish watching, and your first reaction is “huh.” Now, in print, “huh,” can be read a few ways but is usually read as “huh?,” with a question mark. Like, “I don’t get that at all.” That’s not what I mean. This is more the realization form of “huh.” Like, the one you say while nodding a few times. The one you use when you just learned something new that makes sense. After The Sisters Brothers, that’s how I felt. Like I just learned something new about an entire movie genre.

After a movie screening, people often ask, “What did you think?” I usually try to make something up that sounds halfway smart, but the truth is I usually never know until a bit later. Movies are weird in that once we see them, we kind of live with them our whole lives. And our relationship changes with them as time goes on. It’s like meeting a human being, then being asked after knowing that human for two hours, “So, what do you think?” But this time I said, “I think this is a movie I will like more tomorrow, then even more the day after that.”

You see, The Sisters Brothers (based on the novel by Patrick deWitt) isn’t the slam-bam, kind of hilarious looking Western that the marketing might lead one to believe. The Sisters Brothers is a much more introspective movie than it leads on to be, but isn’t that surprising when you factor in that it’s directed by Jacques Audiard, making his first film in English.

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix play Eli and Charlie Sisters – two Old West hitmen who are hired by their boss, the Commodore, to find a man named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has developed an advanced technique for finding gold.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, the first thing you will notice about The Sisters Brothers is that every gunshot is incredibly loud – just this booming noise that almost knocks you back with each round that contrasts sharply with the cinematography of the sweeping landscapes. John C. Reilly’s Eli is the more level-headed of the two brothers and this is more his movie than anyone’s – as he travels further west with his brother, Charlie, who is volatile, erratic, often drunk and, even more often, getting the two in trouble.

The brothers are actually chasing two men, the aforementioned Hermann, but also Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Morris. Gyllenhaal plays John Morris – a more refined, mysterious version of the Sisters Brothers – with a delicate voice that I wish he’d use to record audiobooks. John Morris had found Hermann and captured him, but decides Hermann’s plan for finding gold is just too good to pass up, so that pair heads to California with the Sisters Brothers on their tail.

There are times The Sisters Brothers feels like a really introspective version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here are all these marauders – a motley cast of characters – all in a chase for the prospect of finding precious treasure. And there are times when the movie really is funny, but these moments don’t come quite as often as you might think they do. The brothers aren’t quite as “zany” as the trailer might leave you to believe.