The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Directed by Jacques Audiard

As many of you know, I watch a lot of movies. Wherever possible, I go to a real, live, honest-to-goodness cinema but, living in Hobart, I’m often reduced to relying on streaming services, Vimeo and even YouTube for some classics. My average when studying is a film per day, though now I’m having a break and winter has arrived, that number will possibly rise. If you’re interested, I’ve recently joined Letterboxd the social media site for film nerds, and you can follow my profile to see what I’m currently watching.

Naturally, I don’t write a review for everything I see (many are re-watches) though I often take notes – even in the dark! Over the coming weeks, I hope to catch up with reviews of the movies I’ve seen in recent months. But there are some films that just stay with me and refuse to be shaken off. This is one of them.

I saw The Sisters Brothers back in March at a one-off screening for the French Film Festival at the State Cinema and I’ve only just found time to write a review. To say I enjoyed it is a gross oversimplification. This revisionist western is a complex, often humorous and sometimes ponderous examination of masculinity. Based on the novel by Canadian writer Patrick deWitt, this is French director Jacques Audiard’s first English language feature. I haven’t read the book, so I’m basing this solely on what I’ve seen on screen and the notes I made that night. Shot in Romania, Spain and France with a predominantly European crew, the film has a distinctly different feel to the greater majority of contemporary westerns, which I found very appealing.

The story is basically a four-handed tale and concerns brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) who are two assassins in pursuit of Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) a chemist who befriends the detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal). The characters are all unique, human, flawed and about as far from standard western male stereotypes as one could get. Phoenix is on point with his self-destructive Charlie, Gyllenhaal and Ahmed are excellent as the precise detective and idealistic chemist – but the beating heart of the movie is John C. Reilly as the contemplative and essentially tender-hearted Eli, living in a world of brutality and casual violence.

I found the humour at times a little wearing and that didn’t do the narrative pacing any favours, dragging it down in my opinion. It has occurred to me that this is such a male-centric film, that the jokes aren’t aimed at me but I need to re-watch it to see if my initial reactions hold up.

Nevertheless, this a sumptuously shot film that is gritty, dark and at times, quite disturbing. For me, a middle aged woman, I found it a fascinating essay on masculinity and what it means to be a man, beyond all the standard cinematic tropes. I have mixed feelings about so many aspects of this film, but I appreciate the incredibly high quality film making at its core and will always champion an attempt to do something different and subvert expectations. It really looks like a big blockbuster Hollywood western – but has a script that is more suited to an indie, film festival audience. I understand it got a very limited release in Australia (one night only in Hobart) but it’s scheduled for a DVD release in Australia in mid-June 2019. I will certainly be getting a copy for my home library.

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