The Sisters Brothers
19th October 2018 8.30pm at empire
21st October 2018 10.20am at Vue West End
By night, four men dredge a riverbed to reveal glowing treasures. In an impressive feat of cinematic alchemy, French director Jacques Audiard strikes gold. The Sisters Brothers, his new comedy western starring Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, puts a tender twist on a genre fuelled by testosterone, peeling back the machismo to reveal what delicate dreams the guns are protecting.
Set in 1851 Oregon, the story is based on Patrick DeWitt’s novel of the same name. It follows the notorious assassin siblings Eli and Charlie Sisters (Reilly and Phoenix) as they trail scientist Hermann Warm (Ahmed), the prospector who stole from their boss. Things get a little more complicated when scout John Morris (Gyllenhaal), who is trailing the same person, becomes inadvertently entangled in the idyllic dreams of the man he is supposed to be hunting.
The four central performances reveal a delightfully complicated spectrum of masculinity. Phoenix and Reilly perfectly embody a bond built on blood and strengthened on the blood of others. While the former is boyish, arrogant and trigger-happy, Reilly exhibits a startling sensitivity and paternal compassion. Their sparring gives birth to wonderful comic moments and laughter jumps out from unexpected corners. Reilly dismantles his own fierce reputation as he goes, unsaddling our initial image of the blood-thirsty outlaw. Ahmed’s gentle nature is beguilingly persuasive; he dreams of an ideal society where violence and greed have no place – naturally, Texas. He is clearly and comedically at odds with the brutal world around him, and Gyllenhaal is well partnered to him as the seemingly civilised man who is uprooted by the idea of a truly civilised society.
The light of the utopia they are travelling towards, though, is scorching hot. Ironically (and this film delights in knowing wit) they are searching for that which repels them: gold. It’s all about finding the perfect formula for prosperity, but men are volatile, and so variable that they can hardly be factored into the experiment. Perhaps we are doomed to sabotage our own happiness. The Sisters Brothers juggles with men’s motivations and gives us glimpses of goodness between brutal bloodshed. However, for a feature with such a gripping and surprising story, the ending feels a little unsatisfying. Had the director been able to step away from the source material, one wonders what movie magic might have been uncovered in the final sequence.
Regardless, this is a beautiful film. Sprawling landscapes of desert and brush stretch out across the screen. Moonlit towns are illuminated by the flashes of firearms. Hardened men sit softly glowing in the warm firelight. The Sisters Brothers is a deeply moving and darkly funny exploration of masculinity and morality that morphs the beloved western into something even more rewarding.
The Sisters Brothers is released nationwide on 5th April 2019.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for The Sisters Brothers here: