The Sisters Brothers
There’s a lot of freedom in film, granted you have the money; however, when you set your film in a specific genre, there’s a set of expectation that comes with it. The Western, is a genre that is so specific in its audience expectations that frequently some of its films are interchangeable. Jacques Audiard has decided to throw all of that genre’s presumptions out the window in his latest outing.
The Sisters Brothers is the story of a set of bounty hunter brothers: Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly respectively) who are contracted to find a prospector (Riz Ahmed) who has found an ingenious new way to discover gold in the western rivers of California.
Audiard has clearly crafted a film he wanted to be a character study. The tempo from the get go is very slow, with a deep look at how people lived back in the 19th century; we get scenes of the first encounters with a toothbrush, the rowdiness of a bar, and the troubles of sleeping outside (beware of spiders). There’s a great attention to detail in the period setting, but Audiard seems to get lost in these two aspects and loses his audience because of it.
The main theme that one sees in any ‘Western’ is the survivalist struggle. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there has to be frequent gun fights, just take a look at Robert Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson, where his scavenging wordlessly in the wild is somehow gripping. In The Sisters Brothers there seems to be too much talking for it to be a Western, the personal and philosophical conversations seem apt for a film set in 1960s Paris rather than the wild frontier. Audiard also struggles with adding too many concepts into his film, so that there seems to be five different movies crammed here; the pendulum of the narrative is swinging all over the place. The performances are of note, with Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal (who plays a companion bounty hunter) bringing the more layered and nuanced interpretations, but they’re not enough to keep the audience gripped.
The end result is a dull movie that isn’t able to convince in many aspects, save for its detailed contemporary research. Audiard seemed to have a specific film in mind, set somewhere else, but then simply decided to drop it into a Western setting. It’s a bold move by the French director, but the disregard to the audience expectations it entails ends up being too big a burden.