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article imageReview: ‘The Sisters Brothers’ doesn’t try to abide by tradition Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Oct 5, 2018 in Entertainment
‘The Sisters Brothers’ is an offbeat Western that doesn’t force its characters into clearly defined categories of good and bad as the men at the centre of the tale walk that fine line with many missteps.
While the Western’s heyday may have passed, there is no shortage of new entries to the genre, especially of late. The narratives in the category allow for interesting explorations of race and class, as well as greed and justice. The era of gunslingers and gold diggers invites any number of conversations of right and wrong, good people and bad… and what’s right may not always be good, and vice versa. Legends were created as their feats were immortalized in the written word and fame became a goal rather than an abstract idea. This is the world in which The Sisters Brothers unfolds.
Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, respectively) are outlaws who’ve spent several years making a name for themselves. Their efforts brought them to be in the employment of The Commodore (Rutger Hauer), who’s claimed much of surrounding territory as his domain and uses their skills to ensure no one gets away with crossing him. Their current assignment involves hunting down a chemist, Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who’s in possession of a formula The Commodore covets. Chasing him across several states and getting updates from their accomplice, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), the Sisters brothers always seem to be two steps behind, which isn’t good for their health in their line of work.
Even though they are siblings and partners, Eli and Charlie couldn’t be more dissimilar from each other. Eli is the eldest and the more level-headed of the two men. He hopes to one day retire, settle down with the woman of his dreams and open a store somewhere quiet. Charlie, on the other hand, is a philanderer who enjoys his drink, spends every dollar they make and can’t imagine doing anything else with his life. Although their gun-fighting skills are matched and superior to most, Eli wouldn’t make his living with a pistol if it wasn’t the path Charlie chose for them. Other than wanting to preserve his younger brother, Eli feels he owes Charlie a debt he can never repay — an unexpected source of emotion that runs through the entire film.
In the parallel story, John is incredibly well-spoken and good-mannered. He keeps a diary of his adventures and doesn’t really seem like a gun-for-hire. Herman also has a higher education, which allows him and John to connect on a level neither usually can with other men. Though the latter would be better off if he adopted some of John’s caution when it comes to enlightening people about his grand idea to strike it rich. While John and Herman seem better suited to a partnership, their relationship is built on an inherent deception that will eventually come to a head.
Everyone nails their parts, complementing each other’s performances in spite of the differences in their characters. The gunfights are exciting and pick-up as the story continues, while also finding room for some intrinsic comedy. Moreover, there are elements of the narrative that don’t seem pertinent to the overall plot, yet add to the film’s personality. Finally, the conclusion is pretty brutal as the definition of comeuppance is tested and the four men discover nothing can shield them from the horrors of their actions.
Director: Jacques Audiard
Starring: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal
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