The Sisters Brothers is not just another Western. Charlie and Eli Sisters are brothers. They are also assassins. They work for the Commodore, who has sent them into the Oregon mountains of 1851. In that land, in that time, gold diggers dot the territory. The Commodore wants one found and dispatched, and the Sisters are the bros to do it.
The Sisters Brothers is a Western with all its cliches, but the film also presents the unpredictable. Who, for example, ever heard of a toothbrush as comic relief? There’s little enough relief in this galloping film, but Eli’s finding the newfangled toothbrush slows the film to a comic canter.
Otherwise, following a night of gunfire, the brothers take orders from the Commodore — he is the Big C in the escutcheon on his place. Eli is the sentimental one, carrying a red shawl as a totem from a lady. Charlies is the drunken one, quick of temper, clean of shot. The brothers chase after an oddball chemist, Herman Kermit Warm. Warm is penniless, but he has a formula that might help panners of gold, especially at night. He convinces a poetic detective to go in with him on this scheme and on another, a Utopia in Dallas — that’s how good Warm is. Then, these two opportunists connect to the two assassins. And then there were two. Unarmed.
That last is a joke, a bloody joke.
John C. Reilly plays Eli with feeling, Joaquin Phoenix gives Charlie the range inebriation allows. Jake Gyllenhaal reads his journal entries in voice-over and makes the character downright romantic, like Palladin. Riz Ahmed gives the chemist character a mystery. Carol Kane carves a closing cameo.
Benoît Debie’s cinematography alternates wide looks at mountains with very close-ups of leathered faces. Alexandre Desplat’s music wraps scenes in orchestral and anachronistic strings.
Director Jacques Audiard is known for turning literature into film, especially in Dheepan and Rust and Bone. He and Thomas Bidegain wrote the script for “The Sisters Brothers,” based on a novel by Patrick DeWitt.
The Sisters Brothers was filmed in Spain, not Oregon, which is just one more off, yet apt, aspect of this slightly skewed Western.
I’m Martha K. Baker. From the Grand Center Arts District, this is 88.1, KDHX, St. Louis.