The Sisters Brothers is so far the only English-language film directed by Jacques Audiard, one of the greatest contemporary French filmmakers, and boasts a great cast. Audiard wowed the world with the film A Prophet in 2010 but has continued to be incredibly consistent.
It starts with a bog-standard Western plot, where two brothers are hired to kill someone. Gold prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) is the man being pursued by Eli and Charlie Sisters, the pair of fraternal bounty hunters played by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix. The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) has also contracted with a private detective played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who has located Warm and plans to deliver him to the Sisters Brothers.
The film has a quirky vibe to it—it’s not overly done, but there is a slight comedic aspect to it, and an odd sensibility. You’ve got four really great actors and an excellent supporting cast that includes Carol Kane, amongst others. It’s fun to see Reilly and Phoenix together who, despite their long association with Paul Thomas Anderson, had never appeared together in one of Anderson’s films. They play off each other well (although they look nothing like each other). When the brothers catch up with Gyllenhaal, it takes an interesting turn and becomes his movie for a bit.
If you like Westerns—and even if you don’t—The Sisters Brothers is a decent movie to check out. It’s nice to see an atypical Western that plays with some of the classic tropes of the genre. As always with Westerns ad crime movies, it’s made more interesting by having someone who is an outsider take a look at an established myth of America and produce a fresh take on it. If you like stuff like The Hired Hand, Missouri Breaks or McCabe and Mrs. Miller, it takes that ‘70s revisionist Western sensibility and updates it. I found it a much more interesting film than films like Power of the Dog.
It was a huge flop when it came out, with barely a release in the UK. However, it’s pretty well shot, although you do wish it had been shot on film instead of digital—the scenery calls out for 35mm or even Super-16. A bit of a trim to make for a leaner narrative would have also been an improvement. Hopefully it will find some new fans with this 4K release.
The Arrow release features a new audio commentary by film authors and critics C. Courtney Joyner and Barry Forshaw, a new video essay from Forshaw about The Sisters Brothers and the “psychological Western” genre, plus an hour-long archival making-of documentary that features Audiard, Reilly, various key members of the production team, and Patrick DeWitt, author of the source novel. Also in the package are animated reviews, trailers and several short promotional features, along with newly commissioned artwork, a double-sided fold-out poster, and an illustrated booklet with new and old writing on the film from critic Howard Hughes, Audiard expert Gemma King, and the original production notes.