The Sisters Brothers

One of my favourite directors in the world, Jacques Audiard, delivers his first English-language movie with the comedy-tinged story of bickering cowboy siblings played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly – the latter seems to be making a habit of unlikely double-acts, after partnering with Steve Coogan on Stan & Ollie. (There was also Step Brothers with Will Ferrell was, a little while back.)

Based on a novel by the highly-rated Patrick de Witt (loved by my sister-in-law, who knows about such things), this is a Western about greed and violence, a real homage to the genre by a French film maker always keen to twist the classic tropes of American genre – see, for example, The Beat My Heart Skipped for gangster film, A Prophet for prison movie, Read My Lips for heist movie. Anyway, just see all of those if you haven’t.

And see The Sisters Brothers, too. It’s very funny, with Reilly’s softer brother Charlie playing neatly off the brutish, drunken Eli, played with a dangerous insouciance by Phoenix. They’re matched by equally fine turns by Jake Gyllenhaal as a thoughtful private detective and Riz Ahmed (great casting) as  scientist Hermann Warm, who claims to have invented a new way to extract gold, the prize that glitters for all four of them.

The brothers work for the mysterious Commodore, tracking down targets and killing them, but they’ve got a yearning to go freelance.

Audiard shoots it all in Europe –  Spain, mainly, with a bit of Belgium and Romania – but gets the American spaces and light just right, the horses and the gunfights, the saloons and the spitting, while the Cesar-nominated Alexandre Desplat score is one the ubiquitous French composer’s best.

Most of all, Audiard gets the jokes and the dialogue rhythms perfectly (he wrote the script with his regular collaborator Thomas Bidegain), creating a Western with a difference, and a nice line in indifference. 

It’s continually funny but edged with sweat and threat, and has that undercurrent of existential reflection that appeals to the French, and that you got in those late, autumnal 70s Westerns. See The Hired Hand or Peckinpah, with a soupçon of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre but this is worth a ride of its own.