Set in 1851 in the Northwest Territory between Oregon and California, French director Jacques Audiard’s first English-language film revives the sprawling Western for a new generation.
Hot-tempered, hard-drinking Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) and his shy, introspective older brother Eli (John C. Reilly) work as contract killers for a shadowy boss known as the Commodore (Rutger Hauer).
The squabbling Sisters siblings have been assigned to question and eventually eliminate a mysterious chemist, Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who claims to have invented a process for finding gold and dreams of forming a truly democratic, utopian community in Dallas.
Along the way, they’re joined by erudite scout John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom the Commodore had previously dispatched to track down Warm.
“I have traveled through places that didn’t exist three months ago,” Morris writes in a letter. “First tents, then houses, then shops – with women fiercely discussing the price of flour.”
As often happens on the prairie, allegiances change and nothing goes as planned, forcing the bumbling brothers to evaluate the lifestyle and ethics of the savage gun-slinging profession they’ve chosen.
Adapted from Patrick deWitt’s novel, it’s written by Thomas Bidegain and director Audiard (“Rust and Bone,” “A Prophet”), who kept adapting the shooting script after they witnessed the chemistry between Phoenix and Reilly, including finding hilarity in Eli’s buying a toothbrush and discovering a flush toilet.
“I write the screenplay, then I watch the dailies,” Auiard explains. ”The main idea is that the film never should be petrified…It should keep evolving during production. So we shoot scenes and maybe they will not be in the cut, but we will redo them. It gives life to the project.”
That methodology applied to the restorative conclusion in which Charlie and Eli return to their childhood home, appearing in different contexts in one room after another.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Sisters Brothers” trots in with a skewed 7 and plenty of bloodshed.