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Based on Patrick DeWitt's novel, The Sisters Brothers revolves around the colourfully named gold prospector Hermann Kermit Warm, who's being pursued across 1000 miles of 1850s Oregon desert to San Francisco by the notorious assassins Eli and Charlie Sisters. Except Eli is having a personal crisis and beginning to doubt the longevity of his chosen career. And Hermann might have a better offer.Written by
A dark and nihilistic western thick on dialogue and atmosphere.
So I saw The Sisters Brothers at the theater. I really didn't know what to expect from the movie going in. The trailer made it seem to be a strange buddy comedy western, but I'm a fan of all of the actors so I wanted to give it a chance. Thankfully this was a case of an absolutely misleading trailer. I really enjoyed the end product and think this is one of the best westerns made in years.
The movie is a gritty and at times nihilistic western heavy on atmosphere and dialogue. The film tells two parallel stories that eventally connect as the bounty hunters the Sisters Brother chase after their prey a scientist who has discovered an efficient way to find gold. Along the way both parties encounter struggles that really emphasize the hardships of that era. This is not the kind of western with good and bad guys. Everyone is morally grey and is just trying to survive the best they can.
Anyone looking for an grand and extravagant plot should look elsewhere. The movie is far more about the journey than the destination. The initial conflict acts as a MacGuffin. The real meat of the plot is more of a character study on the brutality of the wild west and the impact it has on the individual. The film plays with traditional Hollywood tropes and the audience's own expectation to craft it's own unique voice of the era.
The brutal nature of the film was one of my favorite parts. The film really ripped away the glamour of a silver screen western and left it bleeding on a table. The movie makes it clear that life was hard, fast, and cheap. A random spider bite, visit to the doctors, or drunken hangover on a horse could easily end a person's life. There was no time for finding something to make you happy when everyday was a struggle to survive. This added realism really captured the nihilistic feel of the movie and added a bleak and somber tone to the film's progression.
The film was also very well directed and shot. The cinematography of the action scenes were fast and fluid, but never felt choppy. This by no means the kind of western with epic battles, but the action suited the overall tone of the film. The director also really did a good job with the set pieces as you really felt like you were in the wild west. The film was exceptionally well shot. The films at times was absolutely stunning to look at. The film also provides an excellent score to match the intense atmosphere the film cultivates.
Acting wise John C Reilly stole the show. It's always nice to see him in films like this to remind everyone what kind of range he has as an actor. Joaquin Phoenix also delivers as the alcoholic and and fast tempered brother. Jake Gyllenhaal was solid as expected, but didn't really stand out in any way in the film. Still I don't have a single complaint about the acting in the film. Everyone did their jobs perfectly.
The film certainly was a very slow burn. It was heavy on dense dialogue and required quite a bit of attention. These are not negatives in my book as they were intentional, but this will not make people happy who are looking for a more traditional western. I will say that the film could have been cut down twenty or so minutes to speed up the flow of the plot. This slight pacing issue did make the film drag at times. The plot structure may be a bit of a turn off for some as well. The bleak and nihilistic flow of the film that puts the initial conflict as secondary may come across as anti-climatic for some.
In a lot of ways this is one of my favorite westerns I've seen in years. I love the actors, but it's the directors masterstrokes that really makes this movie stand out. It was all around one of the best made movies I have seen all year. It certainly had its flaws and it is not going to make anyone happy if they are expecting a traditional Western, but for those who care more about the journey and atmosphere this movie is for you. Unfortunately this movie is bombing in the box office, but it certainly deserves some praise for its accomplishments. A 8.25 out of 10.
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