The Sisters Brothers (Les frères Sisters) (2018) Review

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My poor editing software really does not like this title.

The Sisters Brothers (2018): 7 out of 10: Two brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) with the surname Sister work for a gentleman called The Commodore (the always good to see Rutger Hauer even in a brief role), their job is to protect and expand the Commodore’s business empire in the mid-nineteenth century American west through the methods of murder, torture, and intimidation.

It’s a western. Yay. It’s a revisionist western – much less yay. The Sisters Brothers is, on the surface, an excellent film. As God as my witness however if I have to see one more revisionist western that seems not to realize that revisionist westerns have been a thing for the last eighty years; I am going to be forced to make ironic comments about the future while using a newfangled technology that is now part of our modern daily lives. You want to do something interesting, make a regular straightforward western. That would be refreshing.

The Good

The Good. There are large swaths of this film that work. The entire section in a town called Mayfield works so well one wants to cry out more of this, please.

Tonally the movie does not go where you expect it to go. It is quite refreshing in that way. The Brothers Sisters is not a comedy, despite some sharp one-liners here and there. The brothers’ relationships, despite some carping about the characters below, really holds the movie together and elevates it over some of its contemporaries.

The Brothers Sisters is also a very handsome production with an excellent cast and incredible set design. I was almost under the impression that they had wandered into multiple sets of much more expensive movies. They recreate at least three frontier towns in The Sisters Brothers, including an excellent and expansive San Francisco. You could have filmed a movie version of Red Dead Redemption 2 concurrently, and only the only thing that would have been missing is the alligator swamp.

The Bad

The Bad: Joaquin Phoenix is the hot-headed, impulsive brother that continually gets into fights and gets drunk to the point of passing out. John C Reily is the brother who wants to settle down and quit the life. As a whole their performances are excellent but through script contrivances, each of them to have their moments. Reily gets it the worst by far.

Here is the scene that still sticks in my craw. Now keep in mind this entire set piece is an one-off. Nothing that happens here has anything to do with the plot, doesn’t reveal anything about the characters that had not yet been revealed, and doesn’t provide any entertainment on its own.

The Brothers are in a saloon with prostitutes. Drunk wild brother Joaquin Phoenix has two hotties one on each arm and is getting blotto while quiet brother with a girl back home John C. Reilly drinks at the bar away from the ladies of the evening. But a girl catches Reilly’s eye. She is uglier than the other prostitutes, a little chubby, and she seems shy hiding in the corner. He takes her upstairs, and they have a very awkward conversation which ends in the prostitute leaving in tears because Reilly is too gentle and kind to earn money from in exchange for sex.

It feels like some Mary Sue self-insert fan fiction in the middle of my revisionist western. I would love to say I have seen this done better before, but I haven’t. Every time I have seen this scenario play out in film or other media, it is always awful. The ye olde our hero too sensitive and wonderful to do any prostituting with.

This is not how hookers work. This is not how they work now, this is not how they worked in the olde west, and this is not how they worked in biblical times. It simply is ridiculous on its face.

The Ugly: If you love horses stay far away from this film. You have been dutifully advised.

In conclusion: This is an excellent film. It’s a hell of a lot better than some of its revisionist western contemporaries, such as the Zellner Brothers 2018’s Damsel. I enjoyed The Sisters Brothers and was surprised where it took me. I wish the titular characters were less black and white, and I also thought the entire enterprise had an air of pretension that did it no favors. Overall, as stated above, an excellent film.

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