“The Sisters Brothers” concerns two brothers, brothers who have the odd last name of Sisters. But because they live in the West during the Gold Rush era, they have an odd job. They work for a shady power broker in Oregon who known as Commodore. The Sisters brothers are sent on special missions. They go out to hunt and kill people who have crossed the Commodore in some way. People who have cheated, people who have stolen goods, and maybe even people who have looked at him cross-eyed. The brothers do not care why the hit has been put out. As long as the Commodore pays, the brothers travel the West to do his bidding.
Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) is the older brother and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) is younger. They have deadly aim and never seem to miss. The stakes are high for the Commodore (Rutger Hauer – barely seen in this movie). There is a new job, and it is to work with a private detective named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal). Morris is on the trail of a meek chemist called Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed). Warm has crossed the Commodore, and now he must pay. Being a chemist, he developed some type of method to find deposits of gold in a river bank. Warm decided that this new science trick could give him the means to create a Utopia, and locate it in Dallas. Morris finds and befriends Warm, and he decides to switch sides and protect the scientist from the murderous Commodore.
The Sisters brothers are also getting close to the goal, only to find Morris is now working against them and helping Warm. The brothers encounter many obstacles in the journey to San Francisco. They have run-ins with a bear, and spiders and strange town called Mayfield. They are delayed but not deterred. They arrive in San Francisco to continue the search. Charlie is ready to get on the trail again, even with no clues. Eli wants to take this down time to reflect of the major achievements in the world; such as street lamps, toothbrushes, indoor plumbing and even flush toilets. Charlie is having none of it, because all he wants to do is get out there are kill somebody. Eli is much more sensitive, and he deeply cares for animals. But he thinks his brother might be one…
The Sisters brothers keep searching and they find the pair they are looking for. Morris and Warm and working near a river to prospect for gold, but using Warm’s special formula – it makes it very easy. A group of thugs from Mayfield have followed them, hoping to get the reward for Warm. But Eli and Charlie team up with Morris and Warm to defeat them. They all work together to get a new deposit of gold from the river. The formula is very caustic and dangerous to use. Charlie is greedy and tries to find even more gold. But there is a major incident with the formula, and everything goes very wrong. There are big problems ahead for the Sisters brothers, mostly because Charlie could not control himself.
It is interesting to see a Frenchman co-write and direct a movie about the American West. There is not the typical flavor of a ‘Classic Western’. There are horses and six-shooters and gunfights and brothels and gold prospecting and such. These are used only as backdrops to examine the lives of Charlie and Eli. It brings a gritty realistic view of what it must have been like to be in that era. There is a difficult edge of violence that the brothers must dance up to the rim, but not fall off into oblivion.
However, the slow and meandering story line sometimes gets stuck in the lowest gears. There are shifting motivations for all the characters, and it is hard to believe that most of them would change on a dime. The acting is great all around. Plus special accolades to Jake Gyllenhaal for creating a unique accent and dialect. It sounds like upper-crust East Coast, with a touch of an aristocratic Englishman.
“The Sisters Brothers” is a retelling of the Western frontier experience. But it moves slowly and without much passion. The lead performers are well-suited in those roles. It would be nice if “The Sisters Brothers” had a little more to offer. In the end, it feels like kissing your Sisters…
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