The Sisters Brothers is Jacques Audiard’s western dark comedy drama based on Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same name. Starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as Eli and Charlie Sisters, two notorious hired hitmen pursuing Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) and John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), a prospector and a private detective, from Oregon City to San Francisco.
At the core of Audiard’s film is the central fraternal relationship between Eli and Charlie. It becomes clear very quickly that these are both damaged men through their relationship with their father. Reilly’s Eli is the calmer and kinder of the two, clearly not thrilled by their line of work, but compelled to stay in it out of love for his brother. Charlie meanwhile is far more violent and drunk, often getting the brothers in to trouble. Both Reilly and Phoenix are incredible in the film, with Phoenix particularly standing out as the often unpredictable Charlie, with enough charm that you will root for a fairly unlikeable character.
The pair have an excellent dynamic and chemistry, and really carry the bulk of the movie, as the moments between Ahmed and Gyllenhaal just aren’t quite on the same level as seeing the brothers interact. Reilly and Phoenix both prove to be hilariously funny at times, but also terrific actors able to give the characters plenty of depth. Strangely it is Phoenix who actually has more of the comedic moments, despite Reilly’s comedic background, delivering some big laughs for those fans of darker humour.
The main thing that holds The Sisters Brothers back from being a truly excellent film however is the juxtaposition between the dark comedy and drama. I never quite felt as though I knew what the film really wanted to be. The drama between the two is the standout of the film, and really drove it. It just feels as though there was maybe too much humour injected in alongside this. The comedy often is effective, but it just feels as though it detracts from the dramatic side of the film a little. The one place I did love the juxtaposing tones was the the climax however, it worked perfectly for me, and actually delivered what I thought was a fitting end for the Sisters Brothers’ story.
It is just a shame that the film never quite meshed together for me because all the component parts of it were great. All four of the lead performances are very strong, and Audiard absolutely gets the most out of them. However it just sits in that strange in between place between drama and dark comedy, when a little more either way would easily make it one of the best of the year.