John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Jacques Audiard’s western, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Much of the attending press was greatly impressed when The Sisters Brothers, director Jacques Audiard’s western starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix and Jake Gyllenhaal, had its world premiere screening at the Venice Film Festival this weekend.
Early reviews indicate the period drama — which will kick off its U.S. theatrical run Sept. 21 — has the potential for appealing to both diehard fans of traditional shoot-‘em-ups and moviegoers who prefer their sagebrush sagas with a few revisionist twists.
Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter raved: “This first English-language outing by the ever-adventurous French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) is a connoisseur’s delight, as it’s boisterously acted and detailed down to its last bit of shirt stitching... As are many classic westerns, this is a tale of pursuit and patience involving a long journey and threats known and unknown. There will also be blood, of course, vast changes of fortune and the decisive matters of chance, daring and luck. The Sisters Brothers possesses all of the above, in addition to the curiosity of a filmmaker who has clearly taken great relish in exploring a country that is both familiar (via countless movies) and now quite distant.
“For the genre faithful, it’s almost always rewarding to see the classic form being tackled by an interested outsider. Audiard, working from the well-regarded 2011 novel by Canadian author Patrick deWitt, keeps things interesting all the way by virtue of his clear desire to make everything here feel built from scratch. Much as with such 1970s western refreshers as McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Hired Hand and Bad Company, you can feel the filmmaker’s zeal to make contact with the real Old West through the obligatory mythic passageway provided by the cinema.”
Eric Kohn of IndieWire added: “The Sisters Brothers is a sensitive western about brotherly love that just happens to revolve around stone-cold murderers. It’s a context that requires an original approach to the genre, and that’s exactly what veteran French director Jacques Audiard brings to his first English-language effort. However, in retrospect, Audiard is a natural fit: With movies like Dheepan and A Prophet, Audiard makes rich character studies about people trying to do the right thing in a world stacked against them, and nothing in American mythology provides a better template for exploring that crisis than the Wild West. However, it’s the stirring chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as committed siblings that transforms these lively, violent circumstances into a sweet and intimate journey designed to catch acolytes of the genre off-guard.”
So what’s it all about? According to Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist: “Set in the American West of 1851, the Sisters are two bounty hunter assassins, plucked from a traumatic past, who’ve known only killing from a very young age. The brothers work for the Commodore (Rutger Hauer, in what are very brief appearances), a wealthy Northwestern magnate who fortifies his stronghold by employing the pair to dispose of his rivals and enemies. Charlie [Phoenix], cocky, volatile, damaged, is happy to comply. But Eli [Reilly], the more introverted, sensitively-attuned brother, comes to slowly realize an exit strategy could be a spiritual salvation from all the blood and savagery around them. And these diverging ideas begin to tear the brothers apart.
“The Sisters brothers’ fate is inadvertently set on a new course when they’re sent on a journey through the Northwest to find prospector and fugitive chemist Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) who may just have invented some magic formula for finding gold. The plan is to meet up with the erudite scout John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal, using an educated, 19th Century East Coast accent to a mouthful of effect), who will capture Warm and hand him over to the brothers. However, Morris, a decent man, becomes sympathetic to Warm and his goal of using the riches for building an idealistic utopian society. Morris has a change of heart, and the brothers are forced to trek through the dangerous Gold Rush lands of California where they encounter conflicts that will challenge the ideas of who they are and who they could ultimately become.”
Tim Grierson of Screen Daily noted: “Less a deconstruction of the western than a thoughtful reconsideration of the kind of men who populated the Wild West, the film offers us characters whose motivations aren’t always clear in a world that’s indifferent to their anxieties and vulnerabilities… While The Sisters Brothers can occasionally be a bit pokey, permitting a slower pace so that we can get to know these cowboys, Audiard demonstrates considerable skill with the movie’s brief, brutal action sequences. The movie sometimes slyly mocks the dusty, broad-shouldered clichés of the western but, when the hitmen siblings go about their work, there’s a steely efficiency that, like with many of Audiard’s previous films, darkly highlights the destructive power of violence. Although Eli and Charlie exhibit very different demeanors, as killers they’re frighteningly effective — indeed, it may be the one thing that bonds them even more than blood.
“Indicative of The Sisters Brothers’ surprising tonal shifts, Alexandre Desplat has crafted a fluid score that weaves from whimsical to elegiac to brooding. And production designer Michel Barthélémy and cinematographer Benoît Debie provide the movie with period authenticity without stooping to postcard-pretty compositions. This is a western which is rugged and raw, eschewing the genre’s mythmaking for something a little more off the beaten path.”
Here is a trailer for The Sisters Brothers.