An entertaining Western that is not quite as good as you would wish
- The Sisters Brothers review by PJ
In the American West (1851), brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters are hitmen hired by a wealthy businessman, ‘the Commodore’. He asks them to kill a man named Hermann Warm. The movie shows how the 2 brothers -- killers who think nothing of shooting dead anyone they have been paid to eliminate -- track down H Warm and what happens next.
It is a good film -- a Western, which was directed by a Frenchman, oddly. Some twists in the plot are implausible and the story is a little bit too long, but the plot is good overall. If you like that kind of cynical Western, I don't think you will be disappointed. But it's not a masterpiece.
The film is billed as 'a comedy' but I don't think it is funny per se. This is a misnomer.
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Ironic and subversive
- The Sisters Brothers review by PD
Based on a 2011 novel by Canadian author Patrick deWitt, Jacques Audiard brings a distinctly outsider’s view to the western genre, one that both revels in the genre whilst subverting it.
At first glance the Sisters Brothers, aka Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), seem like tough prairie assassins, as fearsome as Clint Eastwood’s iconic 'man with no name' anti-hero. But the more time we spend with them, the more we realise that this pair of fortysomethings are actually childish, bickering improvisers who rarely know what they’re doing, nor, crucially, why they’re doing it. As with Cassidy and Sundance, they're fun to be with, and Phoenix and Reilly dig into their juicy roles with relish, with Reilly stealing the show as the big brother who touchingly imagines a quieter, more settled life whilst Phoenix plays Charlie as one who sees no sense in settling down. There are shootouts at every turn, but as the film proceeds we care more and more about what happens to these two uncivilised men grappling with the onset of civilisation. As the sensitive, prickly, blabbery Eli, Reilly is tremendous at bringing to life an essentially sweet soul who pines for the girl he left behind, and watching him get to grips with a toothbrush, a miraculous new invention, is like watching Homo sapiens experiment with fire for the first time. Phoenix, meanwhile, has a rare twinkle in his eye as hard-drinking, slightly mad Charlie. And their interplay is, aka Waiting for Godot, delightfully pugnacious but affectionate, with lots of gentle humour en route amidst the violence. As the film trundles along, it develops as a four-hander, and Riz Ahmed is fascinating as the film's cleverest and most idealistic character, a man who dreams of a utopian society and one who thinks he knows how to achieve it.
The film is deliberately meandering, unhurriedly throwing the shambling brothers into one awkward scenario after another. This West is undoubtedly wild, and brutal, and surreal, but Audiard paints it with an ironic eye, constantly puncturing the puffed-up posturings of the tough guys who inhabit it. Often restlessly moving his cameras rather than employing grand John Fordianesque compositions, Audiard keeps things authentically grubby, and it’s beautifully anti-mythmaking - the sort of film John Wayne would hate.
As with the book, the final section of the film is a bit contrived, and it's perhaps a pity that the book's ending has been changed which for me would have worked well on screen. Some might also say the film falls between two stools, being too 'light' for an insightful drama but too 'heavy' for a thriller or comedy. But on the whole I think the director has just about managed to pull it off, and comparisons with the Coen brothers are not far-fetched. Highly enjoyable.
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