Sisters Brothers, The (2018)

The great Jacques Audiard’s first English-language film entertains with strong performances by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, tackling the Western genre with rare wit and verve.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,114

Dir. Jacques Audiard
2018 | USA/France | Crime/Drama/Western | 121 mins | 2.39:1 | English
R21 (Netflix rating) for violence including disturbing images, language, and some sexual content

Cast: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed
Plot: In 1850s Oregon, the infamous duo of assassins, Eli Sisters and Charlie Sisters, chase a gold prospector and his unexpected ally.
Awards: Won Silver Lion – Best Director (Venice)
Distributor: Universal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate

Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

This film never made it to Singapore theatres, even though it was at one point dated for release.  Thanks to Netflix, we finally get to see Jacques Audiard’s first English-language picture. 

One of France’s most prominent directors who made films such as The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), A Prophet (2009) and the Cannes Palme d’Or-winning Dheepan (2015), Audiard’s attempt at directing a Western deserves praise. 

It is a terrific film and as entertaining as any genre picture, yet there is enough offbeat quality to ensure that it doesn’t go down old, well-trodden paths.  It opens with a shootout in the dead of night where we see only flashes of light emanating from the vicious gunfight, a prologue that immediately tells us that we are in for an atypical Western. 

“Charlie, when you kill a man, you end up with his father or his friends on your tail. It usually ends badly.”

Audiard’s assured direction spills into the strong performances of the cast, which includes Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as the titular duo who are infamous as hired assassins, and compelling supporting work by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed.  Phoenix and Reilly are fantastic, carrying much of the film through their characters’ love-hate dependencies with each other. 

Their odd but well-tested relationship also gives the film many moments of conversational humour.  In fact, Audiard’s work is funnier than expected, and more importantly knows how to have fun with the narrative, characters and audience, backed by a playful noir-tinged score by Alexandre Desplat. 

A film that seems to have gone under-the-radar despite the top-tier cast and a great filmmaker at the helm, The Sisters Brothers transforms the linearity of its plot—that of the two brothers chasing after a prospector who has a secret formula for finding gold—into a potent tale about the strength of brotherhood and the optimism of charting new futures for society and oneself.    

Grade: A-



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