I’ve always found it difficult to get into the films of Jacques Audiard which is one among many reasons I was unsure of what to expect from The Sisters Brothers. But this being so different from his past films already had me wondering if this could be an instance where he would click with me, because his films have always remained distinctive for being so unflinching – if also quite emotionally hollow. So how exactly was this sort of style supposed to work not only for a western film in the English language, but also a dark comedy? I think it’d only be fair to say that maybe it opened my eyes to see Audiard’s sensibilities working better as Hollywood productions than they do outside, because The Sisters Brothers only ever made itself out to be an entertaining ride.
Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star as the titular Charlie and Eli Sisters, a pair of hitmen brothers who work under the command of the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). The two of them are on a quest to find a chemist by the name of Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), but Eli starts to think that maybe Hermann’s own propositions may benefit the life that the Sisters brothers have made for themselves more than the work that they have already dedicated themselves to for so long. While this film may already make itself out to be more entertaining in contrast when you put it next to the works by Audiard that we’ve already made ourselves so familiar with, it still retains many of his best tendencies as a filmmaker.
To get the obvious out of the way, there’s always something to love about the chemistry that John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix have with one another, and how it’s all utilized in the opening sequences. There’s never a moment with the two of them together that ever bores its viewers, because the entire first half of the film can perhaps be best summed up as the Sisters brothers themselves having so much fun with what they do. It feels so uncharacteristic for Audiard in that very sense but it’s also something that I’m not against seeing, because I wish that the whole film was a whole lot more of this rather than what it turned to soon after.
While The Sisters Brothers has a lot to boast from how much fun Reilly and Phoenix are having with one another, suddenly all of that tones down as we focus on a more melancholy side coming into play when the Sisters brothers start hanging around more with Hermann Warm. Riz Ahmed’s presence is always welcome, but because his character’s own ambition was one of far greater intent, it only made me focus more on him over the Sisters brothers themselves. But I don’t know if I could really say I bode well with this sudden shift in pace, because the Sisters never exactly showed themselves to be characters who drove our interests to great lengths outside of their name and the joke we can make out of that. It feels way too abrupt, and slows down the film a great deal too, by the time the film ends it only had me wondering if the payoff ever really made itself really feel as if it was totally worth it.
I’m down for another film by Jacques Audiard in the English language, but the most I can only find myself assuming out of a work like this is that he still has to find his own footing. At its best, it’s entertaining and also rather darkly hilarious. At its worst, it never really feels like it’ll move anywhere – and the Sisters brothers themselves aren’t exactly intriguing characters outside of the obvious joke that one can make from their name. But there’s so much fun that John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix are having within the setting, you could only wish that the entire film that surrounded them was also one of greater ambition much like their characters. At the very least you’d get some rather beautiful imagery coming along the way as expected for a western, but I wish The Sisters Brothers was also more like the first half rather than its second.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Annapurna Pictures.
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Screenplay by Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, from the novel by Patrick deWitt
Produced by Pascal Caucheteux, Gregoire Sorlat, Michel Merkt, Michael De Luca, Allison Dickey, John C. Reilly
Starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer
Release Date: September 21, 2018
Running Time: 121 minutes