Director: Jacques Audiard
Talent: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix. Jake Gyllenhaal
Released: 5 April
The Sisters Brothers is Jacques Audiard’s first English-language film in a career that dates back to the ‘90s. Moreover, inasmuch as it’s about a pair of bounty-hunter siblings (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) tracking down a chemist and his gunslinger partner (Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal) in the Wild West, it marks a significant departure from the filmmaker’s usual output, which includes the likes of the Palme D’Or winning Dheepan. The gamble pays off beautifully.
The great worth of this film lies in its portrait of change, both societal and personal. For decades ‘the Western’ has been a vehicle for analyses of the human condition – whether one thinks of films like Unforgiven, The Proposition or Slow West, the genre’s mix of violence and community at the dawn of industrial civilisation (where the rule of law is not total) makes it a perfect cauldron to stress and temper certain values we accept as essential. Audiard’s film fits neatly into this trend: his characters struggle with the bonds of family and friendship, at a time when serious injuries of any kind are fatal, cities are rare, and travelling long distances takes weeks instead of hours.
More intriguingly is that, in depicting the growth of the characters against the backdrop of a changing society, the film itself changes. What begins as a fairly typical, and often quite funny, chase movie through Outlaw country, turns slowly into a parable about spiritual development. Past a certain point characters begin to speak differently. They see their lives with more clarity, and articulate thoughts that were hitherto inexpressible or only dimly perceived, as though raised to a higher level of consciousness. The film counterpoises earlier scenes of levity and violence with scenes of contemplation and real emotional resonance. An oddly powerful film.
Words: Tom Lordan