The Sisters Brothers - dark, funny, and nihilistic

John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix impress in Jacques Audiard’s English-language debut

John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in The Sisters Brothers.

John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in The Sisters Brothers.

THE SISTERS Brothers is French director Jacques Audiard’s English-language debut. Audiard first came to attention in 2005 with The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and enjoyed wide acclaim for 2009's magnificent A Prophet.

The Sisters Brothers was released in September in the US, but was not a commercial success (could have something to do with opening the same week as A Star Is Born ) and despite winning the Golden Lion for best picture in Venice, it otherwise failed to register during the awards season. It has also not been served well by its marketing, as it is being advertised as a comedy. There are funny moments, but this is certainly not a comedy.

The titular brothers are played by John C Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, hit men in the employ of mysterious The Commodore, a crime boss in the Wild West during the gold rush. He sends the brothers in pursuit of Hermann Warm, a man who has stolen something very valuable from The Commodore. Also chasing Warm is a detective named John Morris, who, along the way, also becomes a target for the brothers.

'There is also a Wes Anderson feel to it, it is quirky, but whereas his movies have a undercurrent of darkness, this is a gushing pitch black river'

John C Reilly is excellent, I love when he is able to use his vulnerability like this. It has shades of his really great performances in Magnolia 20 years ago. His sincerity on screen is unmatched, as shown a few months ago in Stan and Ollie. He plays the sensitive brother, Eli who cannot bring himself to abandon his self-destructive alcoholic brother, Charlie played by Joaquin Phoenix. I always admire Phoenix's ability to play unlikeable characters as completely unlikeable, nothing redeeming. This is rare, as actors inherently want to be liked. When they play someone nasty often they introduce a trait or tick to explain their nastiness but Phoenix has no problem with just being a bad guy.

sisters brothers

Morris is played by Jake Gyllenhaal while Riz Ahmed plays Warm, and one of my only criticisms is I wish we spent more time with those two excellent actors, who do more here than you would think considering the amount of screen time they get.

The Sisters Brothers has been compared to the Coen brothers recent Netflix film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, but it is more reminiscent of their 2010 remake of True Grit. There is also a Wes Anderson feel to it, it is quirky, but whereas his movies have a undercurrent of darkness, this is a gushing pitch black river. Its has a drawn out long poignant ending which I loved, but its opening is also impressive - the brothers come upon the targets at night and the entire shoot out is in pitch black, lit only by gunshots - an arresting image which sets the tone well.

The nihilism of The Sisters Brothers is not for everyone, but as an alternative to what is in the cinema at the moment - children’s films for Easter break and an onslaught of superhero movies - it is a welcome reprieve.

4/5.

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