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The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard

On paper, Canadian writer Patrick deWitt’s award-winning western novel The Sisters Brothers might seem like an unlikely vehicle for Jacques Audiard’s English-language debut. The veteran French director of The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Rust and Bone, and Dheepan isn’t known for working either with humour or with genre, but the result here is an absolute treat.

“...full of surprises, moments of pathos, and humour in the darkest of places.”

Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) are two notorious assassins. Grizzled, cynical, and not inclined to take prisoners, they travel through the wilds of the American Far West at the height of the Gold Rush when quick thinking and an even quicker draw were the only way to survive. The brothers have been contracted by Oregon City crime boss The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) to kill Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a prospector he claims has betrayed him. En route, they encounter myriad complications as they ride down to San Francisco and through the Sierra Nevada: witches, bears, a madam who owns a town and commands a murderous army of fur trappers, and a detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) tracking the same peculiar man they are. When the four men finally meet, to say it doesn’t quite go as expected is an understatement. Despite the violence, this is a film which is full of surprises, moments of pathos, and humour in the darkest of places.

Audiard has taken all the classic elements of a Western and made them uniquely his own. All of the cast are on their very best form – Reilly and Ahmed in particular shine – clearly relishing the chance to work with such great material. There’s a surreal, dreamy quality to the film’s look, which only adds to its strange, wonderful, atmosphere. This is western with eccentric dark humour, swagger and bravado, a tough spirit and an unexpected tender heart, much like the Brothers themselves.