The Sisters Brothers review: Teaming Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as brothers in the old west in the 1800s, A Prophet and the Cannes-winning Dheepan filmmaker Jacques Audiard’s film is a true highlight of TIFF 2018, a dark, bloody funny western with plenty of opportunities for its wonderful leads to shine.
The Sisters Brothers review [TIFF]
The year is 1850 (ish), the location Oregon and an influential figure named The Commodore (a dialogue-free, limited, though essential star-turn for seasoned actor Rutger Hauer) has hired old guns the Sisters brothers Eli (John C. Reilly) and the younger sibling Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) to track down and kill a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed). Warm has a new product that he’s run away with, one that quite literally lights up gold in streams and rivers making it much easier to find and collect. The Commodore wants the chemical formula all to himself, naturally, so time is of the essence before Warm disappears for good.
Also on the hunt for Warm is Jake Gyllenhaal’s detective John Morris, who is supposed to aid the brothers, but actually ends up joining Warm’s cause, wanting in on the action himself. What follows is a glorious two hours of cowboy high-jinks, one of the most fun we’ve had at the cinema in ages.
A lot of the plaudits for the success of the film is the dynamic between the two central actors. Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly are perfectly paired as the two brothers and make the whole piece so extremely watchable, and their characters utterly likable. A stand-out scene is where Reilly’s character buys a toothbrush, completely unaware of what it is. He eventually uses it for the first time much later, but a brilliantly physical performance from Reilly makes it one of the stand-out moments of the movie, and Audiard even manages to stretch it out to a second joke an hour or so on in the story. There are many similar set-pieces, a slightly off-beat humour suiting the narrative, and the actors that are involved.
Related: Damsel review [Berlinale]
Riz Ahmed is superb and again, extremely likable as Warm, while Gyllenhaal also delivers in a supporting role as the copper who goes rogue all in the name of making a quick buck.
The film is bloody, gruesome in places, and completely unpredictable – you never really know what will happen next. It all ties up nicely at the end, and the laughs keep on coming, right of the way to the end titles roll, though it never feels like true slapstick, the director intent on balancing proceedings with realist action-packed, hyper-real gory, bloody moments.
It feels very much like a European film – it does have a French director, of course, who also co-wrote the screenplay – and this is all to its benefit. It takes a little while to vibe with, but if you stick with it you’ll have been witness to one of the stand-out movies of the year.
A true delight and a welcomed departure for the superb Audiard.
The Sisters Brothers review by Paul Heath, September 2018.