A new frontier for two gun-slinging brothers by Richard Jones

sisbrosA look at The Sisters Brothers (MA 15+)

As a lifelong fan of Western movies I looked forward to the latest to hit the big screen. It was French director Jacques Audiard’s first foray into an English language film and is called The Sisters Brothers. Now that’s not a play on words because Eli and Charles Sisters are brothers and guns-for-hire. It’s set in 1851 when the wild west was still largely untamed and the gold rush was at full throttle yet at a touch more than two hours the film doesn’t really take off.

Older brother Eli (John C Reilly) is a bit neurotic, is pining for an old girlfriend who he’s replaced somewhat through his love of horses and doesn’t particularly take to killing. Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) never thinks much beyond drinking and killing with occasional sessions of whoring thrown in. They’re constantly being hired by a shadowy figure called The Commodore who regularly moves bases from Oregon City to San Francisco and hands out murder assignments to the Sisters as he expands his empire. The Commodore is a cattle baron who also uses his urban connections to further his gaming reach and contacts the Sisters when someone gets in the way.

Their latest job is to find detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who will lead them to the man they have to kill. This is a prospector named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) who is using primitive chemicals to detect and isolate tiny gold nuggets and thus lead miners to their golden dreams. On their way to a meeting with Morris and Hermann the Sisters run into some wildlife problems. While asleep out in the open one night Eli’s open mouth provides a sanctuary for a large spider (we thought it was a tarantula, but it’s not as big). When he wakes up Eli vomits up spider eggs as he absorbs the news that his brother has shot dead a grizzly bear who was attacking their horses. The spider poison lingers for quite some time in Eli’s system as his swollen cheeks and jawline attest.

The Sisters eventually find Morris and Hermann, putting aside their reasons for meeting up as all four set about tracing the gold in a medium-sized creek. Hermann’s chemicals work, there’s no question about that, as gold nuggets gleam on the river bed. But the acid or arsenic or whatever it is affects the four prospectors’ skin and seeps into their bloodstreams. Eli has to load Charlie onto his horse and scurry off to the nearest town and find the local doctor. Charlie ends up minus one forearm and a few fingers on the other hand while Morris and Hermann die in the river from the chemical poisoning.

There’s one last chore for Eli to undertake. Minus a complete arm, Charlie is no longer a gun-slinger (although he can tell his brother how many bodyguards will be around) leaving the older brother to track down The Commodore.

How John C Reilly got involved in the production is interesting in itself. A perennial sidekick (think of him this year as Oliver Hardy in Stan and Ollie) Reilly bought the rights to the book which featured the brothers. It was written by a Canadian author named Patrick deWitt and Reilly could see himself as the lead character: the older brother.

And away went the project.

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