By Casey Campbell
Westerns, like noirs, are rarely seen anymore. Maybe it’s the cultural climate of the post 70’s, or the fact that superhero movies are what westerns were back in the 50’s and 60’s. Either way, Neo-westerns are more than okay with me, especially after the super stylish Slow West and the basically perfect remake of True Grit from the Coen Brothers. The Sisters Brothers is a Neo-western in the style of both of the previously mentioned films, in that it offers plenty of what was great about the old westerns while also being its own thing entirely. It’s surprising, refreshing, and an absolutely great time from start to finish. The Sisters Brothers is available on Hulu.
Simply told, The Sisters Brothers is a western about two brothers with the last name Sisters, Eli and Charlie (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix respectively), who chase a would-be prospector with a secret to strike it rich. The story is straightforward, but the movie delivers it in quick scenes that build the characters into fully fleshed out humans.
What’s so surprisingly refreshing about this film is how much you care about the machismo men that traditionally inhabit these kinds of movies. The character of Eli Sister, played masterfully by John C. Reilly, is probably the most empathetic character throughout the story. You see him give a shit about his brother and frankly about anything that happens to them. Normally in a western, the grunting men in the foreground, whether Eastwood or Wayne, don’t traditionally show signs of weakness. But in The Sisters Brothers, which is clearly grounded in the realistic setting of the barbarous old West, the characters act like real people who can get hurt and show emotion.
Along the way, the Sisters try to seek out John Morris (an obviously great Jake Gyllenhaal) and the peculiarly named Hermann Kermit Warm (an equally great Riz Ahmed) to bring back to the mysterious Commodore, who oversees most of their operations. The addition of these two tremendous actors, last seen working together in the brilliant Nightcrawler, add yet another level of chemistry to the already accessible movie. In fact, the way the two duo’s scenes are spliced together must explain why the movie is paced so well. Sitting at a decent two hours long, The Sisters Brothers never feels like a slog. The story goes right along, never staying anywhere too long, and regularly upping the ante in terms of both comedy and drama.
The little scenes sprinkled throughout the movie that drive the plot in such nonconformist ways are truly an enhancement, thanks to the deft direction by Jacques Audiard. While watching, you wouldn’t expect a scene in which a spider climbs into the sleeping mouth of a character to be engaging and story driven, but then it’s just that.
It’s a movie of subtle surprises, and all of them are welcome in how they enhance the story. The acting is great, but that’s really no surprise given the talent involved, and the scenes are shot with a focus on nature which ends up being utterly beautiful. It’s fun and surprising and endearing. It’s also one of the best westerns I’ve seen come out in the past few years. It’s available on Hulu, so I’d seriously recommend it.