TIFF 2018: The Sisters Brothers

Joaquin Phoenix (left) stars as “Charlie Sisters” and John C. Reilly (right) stars as “Eli Sisters” in Jacques Audiard’s THE SISTERS BROTHERS, an Annapurna Pictures release. Credit: Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures.

While not entirely a comedy, The Sisters Brothers certainly provides an interesting take on the Western genre during the height of the Gold Rush.

Set in 1851,  Charlie and Eli Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) are a pair of fascinating figures.  Working for The Commodore (Rutger Hauer), the duo follow scout John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the hunt to capture a chemist on the run, Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed).  Warm is a gold prospector that is said to have turned on The Commodore.  The pair of Sisters Brothers have known nothing but guns throughout their entire life.  That they even start to question their role in society takes the film on an interesting turn.

We learn that Eli wants to live a normal life.  The bigger question remains as to what exactly counts for normal in the 1850s?  Compared to Eli, Charlie is a big alcoholic yet he’s the one who somehow finds himself in charge.  Yet the duo chase Warm through Oregon before a stop in Mayfield.  The town of Mayfield is interesting because it’s named for a woman, Mayfield (Rebecca Root), who owns the entire town.  As is the case in any Western, you’d expect this person owning a bar to be a man but they change the trope up big time!  Finally, they make it towards San Francisco in search of gold.

While Charlie and Eli are chasing after Morris and Warm, the latter two are finding themselves changing up the story.  This is where some mystery ought to be kept so to speak.  It’s almost as if we have two very different odd couple relationships in the film!

Both John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix are very convincing in their role as brothers.  It also helps that the script works completely to their benefit with a nice mix of both comedy and drama.  If their chemistry wasn’t convincing enough, the film wouldn’t work.

Rebecca Root plays a minor but crucial character as Mayfield.  I don’t know whether Mayfield is cisgender or transgender but casting the transgender actress goes a long way for the 1851-set film.  This is honestly more than what I can say about another film playing in Toronto.  Credit goes to casting director Francine Maisler and director Jacques Audiard for this casting decision.  It’s a move that won’t be forgotten by the transgender community.

Westerns are not really known for their comedic side.  Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain change this up in their screenplay as the two add a nice amount of wit.  As sad as it may be, we can’t help but laugh when Reilly’s Eli wakes up completely swollen from ingesting a spider while sleeping.

Visually speaking, the film stays true to the period.  It’s both dark and bright when need be.  Production wise, filmmakers have made the decision to not shoot in North America where we’d see the same rehashed sets serve another purpose.

Set during the height of the Gold Rush, The Sisters Brothers works largely on the heels of the four leading stars.

DIRECTOR:  Jacques Audiard
SCREENWRITERS:  Jacques Audiard & Thomas Bidegain
CAST:  John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer, Carole Kane, Rebecca Root

The Sisters Brothers held its North American premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.  Annapurna Pictures will open the film on September 21, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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