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  • Don Ford

Don Reviews "The Sisters Brothers"

There have been a few films about the Gold Rush era of American history, but not a lot of them have shown the dark side of the quest to get rich in a much simpler society than we have now. From the harsh weather, poor living conditions, and even the evil of other people, it wasn’t the picturesque time that many films have shown. French director Jasques Audiard (A Prophet) takes his turn at this time in our history with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix with “The Sisters Brothers.”

Co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Riz Ahmed (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Rebecca Root (The Danish Girl), Allison Tolman (Good Girls), and Rutger Hauer (Sin City), this tale takes place in 1851 as the Gold Rush is on in California and Oregon with Eli (Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Phoenix). Both are hitmen who work for The Commodore (Hauer) on assignment to catch a chemist named Hermann Warm (Ahmed), who may have stolen a formula that makes extracting gold easier. They are also working with a double agent of sorts in John Morris (Gyllenhaal), and all of them are presented with the choice of finishing the job or teaming up with Warm to go into business for themselves.

With this film taking place where it does, I was surprised to find out that most of it was filmed in Spain. This was very nicely shot to double for the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century accurately. With the focus really being on Reilly, Phoenix, Ahmed, and Gyllenhaal, all four do a good job, but I did wonder if Phoenix was acting or not, given his personality. Reilly also does well, but I wonder if the public at large is ready to deal with him in a more serious role after the number of comedic roles he has played. Gyllenhaal brings his A Game as well balancing the nice and evil sides of his character, and I could see some nominations coming from this film in a few months.

The script here is based on a popular novel, and as is the norm, there are a number of liberties taken from the source material, but it is still strong and kept me interested. There are some pacing issues for me that reminded me of “Unforgiven,” and I understand that this tends to be the way with westerns, but not to this extent. (Look at the 2016 version of “The Magnificent Seven” for reference here.) The violence level is also very high, which for this story I appreciated. There should be some buzz around “The Sisters Brothers” as the end of the year approaches, and I will recommend it as a twilight showing in a theater.

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