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'The Sisters Brothers' is a new, intimate character study-focused take on westerns

Astounding cinematography and award winning performances make this film a must-see.

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  • | 4:43 p.m. November 5, 2018
Photo courtesy Chicago Sun-Times
Photo courtesy Chicago Sun-Times
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"The Sisters Brothers" is an American western unlike any other. It is French director-writer, Jacques Audiard's, first English-language film and, yet, he so brilliantly tackles the unfamiliar genre that it looks like he's been at it for decades.

In 1851, two brothers who are contract killers, Eli Sister (John C.Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix), are hired by an evil magnate known as The Commodore (Rutger Hauser) to murder a prospector. But this is no ordinary gold digger. Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) is a foreign scientist who has discovered a chemical that illuminates hidden gold within the riverbeds. 

When Warm realizes that he's been set up for a hit, he engages the assistance of a scout, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), in evading the Sisters brothers, renown for brutally torturing their victims. The pursuit ensues from Oregon all the way to San Francisco, over a 1,000 miles of rugged terrain. En route, we get to know how all four men became who they are. When they finally hook up, not all goes as planned.

Audiard ("Rust and Bone") has chosen to create an intimate character study, rather than a shoot-em-up cowboy flick. His players evolve into the people we least expect them to become. It's an existential film which tackles greed, environmental issues and familial dysfunction. There's a slew of merciless savagery going on, mostly committed by the brothers; but there's also camaraderie, love and lots of laughs. He chooses, oddly, for his most fearsome of characters to be extremely articulate, emphasizing their comedic and compassionate natures.

Photo courtesy Moviefone
Photo courtesy Moviefone

The cinematography in this psychologically dark film is visually astounding. The sets are intricate, authentic and detailed. Images such as a lone horse on fire galloping against a pitch black sky becomes one of indelibility. And one badass spider slowly crawling into Eli's open mouth as he's sleeping evokes considerable squirming ... especially the after effects.

The entire cast is up to the task in portraying these multifaceted men who face a multitude of hurdles. But John C. Reilly really stands up to the challenge of playing a vicious killer with a compassionate side that he keeps well hidden. It's an award winning performance.

"The Sisters Brothers" was made for 38 million dollars and, thus far, has only taken in less than 10 million. Evidently, westerns aren't a big draw these days. But this sweeping masterpiece deserves attention and, hopefully, will garner it in the not-too-distant future.


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