September 8, 2018
‘The Sisters Brothers’ is a Gorgeous, Surreal Postmodern Western [TIFF]
Jacques Audiard‘s The Sisters Brothers is an utterly strange, utterly lovely postmodern Western about two outlaw brothers and the two men they’re hunting. Dreamy, surreal and balancing darkness and light in equal measure, it’s a wholly unique, somewhat perplexing experience.
Find out more in our The Sisters Brothers review below.
The Sisters Brothers ride across the plains; into dusty towns; towards the ocean. They sleep under the stars; swallow spiders; have nightmares about their terrifying father. They both come with baggage. Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) is the kinder of the two. He’s affable; curious; cares about animals. Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) is the complete opposite – violent, short tempered, constantly drunk. These two mismatched siblings are guns for hire, and they have no qualms about shooting untold numbers of poor saps directly in the face.
The Sisters Brothers, from director Jacques Audiard, is a curious film. Too bleak to be considered a comedy, too funny to be considered a drama, the film exists on some sort of otherworldly plain, balancing light and dark in equal measure.
The Sisters Brothers have been hired to track down, and torture, prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a chemist who has devised a way to quickly find gold. The Sisters’ aren’t the only ones on Warm’s trail – private detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is also tracking him. The plan is for Morris to find Warm, then wire his location to the brothers – who will then promptly show up and torture Warm’s gold-finding secrets out of him.
Things don’t go according to plan. Morris ends up befriending, and becoming quite fond of, Warm. The two decide to go into business together. But they still have the Sisters Brothers to deal with. The brothers do eventually catch up, and while I wouldn’t dream of revealing what happens next, let’s just say it’s the complete opposite of whatever you think it might be.
Sad, surreal and often quite bleak, The Sisters Brothers is simultaneously inviting and repellent. The world of the film – captured through gorgeous, painterly cinematography by Benoît Debie – is often vibrant and inviting. The best movies are those we wish we could climb inside and stay a while, and that’s exactly the vibe The Sisters Brothers gives off. And yet, the film is punctuated with bursts of shocking, disturbing violence. This polarizing blend might repulse some viewers, while others will been enchanted.
The four leads are equally met in skill and grace. Reilly makes the biggest impression as the kind, almost childlike Eli. A scene where he attempts to tend to his dying horse is utterly heartbreaking – the tender, sorrowful way he talks to the animal is lovely and sad.
Phoenix, one of the best actors working today, gets to have a little more fun with the more wild and crazy Charlie. But by the film’s second half, Charlie’s mood has soured greatly, allowing Phoenix time for introspection.
Ahmed has the least flashy part as the good natured Warm, who can’t understand why the world is so ugly.
And Gyllenhaal is an absolute delight, affecting a lilting, sing-song voice for his verbose character.
Audiard lets The Sisters Brothers unfold like a dream. One of the film’s most fascinating factors is the way it avoids over-explaining (or really just explaining) things. Everything here feels like it subscribes to dream logic, rather than the logic of the waking world. The Sisters Brothers ride their horses slowly across a beach littered with debris – a dresser, a desk, some chairs, all of it unremarked upon. Eli wakes one morning to find a giant bear dead in the spot where the brothers made camp the previous night. The duo rest up at an inn where a horde of men in animal skins stomp around wildly in circle, like some sort of pagan ritual.
As The Sisters Brothers concludes, we’re left puzzled yet comforted. Like the real world itself, there’s so much bleakness and violence in the world of this movie, but there’s beauty too. Yes, there’s death, and fear, and pain. But there are also landscapes where the moon hangs low and beautiful. And there’s a place like home, welcoming and warm, where we can rest and stave off the darkness for just a little while.
/Film rating: 8 out of 10
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