I’ve always been a fan of westerns. Sadly the genre died out after a long period of TV fare that was almost all westerns. But occasionally a good one pops up in theaters like SILVERADO or DANCES WITH WOLVES. When I heard a new western was coming out called THE SISTERS BROTHERS I was curious as to what that would be.
Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are two hitmen in the employ of a man only referred to as the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). The movie opens with them taking out someone the Commodore sent them to kill and then reporting to him for a new assignment. That job is to find Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) and kill him as well, the Commodore claiming he stole something from him.
The pair set out and their differences become apparent as they travel. For one, Eli wonders why so many people would choose to steal from someone as powerful as the Commodore, questioning the tasks they’ve been assigned. Charlie defends their employer. This shows how Eli is the thinker of the two and Charlie more one for action. As they travel another difference is the fact that much of what they do weighs on Eli while Charlie is slowly evolving into a raging alcoholic, drinking and starting fights at night when they hit towns.
The brothers are able to follow the path of Warm with the help of John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer and investigator for the Commodore. Traveling with a wagon train he befriends Warm while at the same time leaving messages along their trail for the Sisters brothers. He helps Warm purchase a horse and the duo head for Jacksonville. When Warm discovers what Morris is up to he knocks him unconscious and handcuffs him.
But Morris breaks free and takes Warm prisoner. It is then that Warm tells him his story, how he’s developed a formula that will make finding gold easier and that the Commodore wanted to steal it from him. Finding out the truth Morris frees Warm and the two become partners in this endeavor, continuing on west to the gold rush.
The brothers find their prey has left Jacksonville and is on their way to Mayfield and they pursue. When they arrive they’re greeted by Mrs. Mayfield herself who puts them up in rooms in her saloon. It isn’t long before Charlie is drunk and Eli begins wondering if Mayfield isn’t on the up and up. Sneaking Charlie out of their room they’re confronted in the stables by a group of men looking to make a reputation for themselves as the killers of the infamous Sisters brothers. It doesn’t end well for them.
The pair follow more clues taking them closer and closer to Warm and Morris. Along the path Eli continues to try and talk Charlie out of continuing on the way they have and Charlie remains adamant that he enjoys his lifestyle. What happens when they finally reach Warm and Morris takes the movie down a different path with and ending most won’t see coming.
Watching the film the first thing I loved was that the production took the time to get it right. I’ve seen far too many westerns in recent years where people seem to be wearing newly purchased store bought clothes rather than the weather beaten items that would have been worn at the time. It’s a small detail but it shows the depth the film maker is willing to go to make the movie seem real.
This film had a fell that this was the real west, not the manufactured Roy Rogers type we grew up with but not so far into gritty realism it couldn’t be enjoyed. Everything from the aforementioned costumes to the sets combined to make this a western in every sense of the word.
The acting is stupendous with a standout performance by Reilly. Not an actor with the stereotypical good looks one expects he brings life to the character of Eli. Phoenix also delivers a find performance making his character not one to hate but to feel pity for. Fans of Gyllenhaal will be slightly disappointed as his role while important takes a backseat to the main leads.
If your fans of the actors involved, of westerns, of movies that are willing to take a chance of going down a slightly different path than previously seen then this is a movie you’ll want to check out. It was one I enjoyed and know I would have no problem watching a second or even third time.