Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are hired guns working for the commodore. They are tasked with pursuing Herman Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist with a revolutionary invention. Following tips from the Commodore’s detective, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), The Sisters Brothers brave the wilderness yo find their quarry, along the way questioning the manner of their living.
Director Jacques Audiard brings his intimate sensibilities to the mainstream with this bloody western. Gunfights are plentiful, typically very quick exchanges filled with gunsmoke and sparks. There’s a charged energy to the conflict.
Reilly and Joaquin have fantastic chemistry as the brothers. Their personalities are familiar but far from cliched. There’s a tenderness between them that resists sentimentality but is very natural and convincing. Much of the film is dedicated to their discussions and the nature of their differences. Phoenix in particular is enigmatic and compelling as the self destructive Charlie. Reilly has an easy charm and convincing weariness. Its a very enjoyable dynamic.
An overwhelming sense if inevitable tragedy follows these characters. Good intentions and talk of hopes and dreams feel foolhardy in a world where death comes suddenly and cruelly. Nature is an insidious and dispassionate force throughout, paying little attention to the men and their goals.
The Sisters Brothers is a rough, action filled but surprisingly tender western, driven by two superb performances and assured direction from Audiard. It may lack the depth of humanity and meaning of his earlier efforts but is nevertheless a very fine western.