Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rebecca Root, Allison Tolman, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane
Written by: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, based on a novel by Patrick DeWitt
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
MPAA Rating: R for violence including disturbing images, language, and some sexual content
Running Time: 121
Date: 09/21/2018
IMDB

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Doin' It for Themselves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This enjoyable revisionist Western focuses on touching male relationships, but is also somewhat tonally uneven, swinging scenes of from brutal violence to scenes that could be described as "cuddly."

In The Sisters Brothers, cool-headed Eli (John C. Reilly) and reckless Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are hired killers in 1851. The generally work in Oregon for a powerful man called the Commodore. Their latest job involves a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed). Another of the Commodore's agents, the elegant, educated John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been charged with finding and befriending Warm, and then the Sisters Brothers will meet them to do the dirty work. [Note: "Hermann Warm" is also the name of the legendary production designer on classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Vampyr.]

Then, Morris discovers what it was that the Commodore wants: a special chemical formula for finding gold. He decides to abandon the Commodore and join Warm in business, but they make many enemies in the process. The Sisters Brothers save the pair from attackers, and the four become friends. But the chemical gold mining has its drawbacks, and more tragedy awaits.

French director Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, A Prophet, Rust and Bone) makes his English-language debut with an assured touch; the movie's lyrical dialogue flows like music. Audiard seems to specialize in stories about the way violence wriggles its way into relationships, and The Sisters Brothers fits perfectly. Reilly and Phoenix's characters have a simple, but genuine history, and an appealing conversational shorthand. Their performances are terrific.

The same goes for Ahmed and Gyllenhaal (who worked well together in Nightcrawler), as two educated men who prize simple courtesies and kindnesses. (Gyllenhaal in particular speaks with a studied elocution that sounds poetic.) The four together, hanging around camp and waiting for a chance to look for gold, have a genuine, delightful camaraderie.

Audiard uses the Western landscapes effectively, but the violence can seem detached, and the killings don't mean much (except for the untimely death of a horse, which is more gruesome than it had to be). And if not for the ingenious casting of the loopy, lovable Carol Kane in about 5 minutes of screen time, the ending wouldn't have quite so well.

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