The Sisters Brothers (15)

Feb 26, 2020
Anson Paul

A subtle and funny western about squabbling siblings hired as assassins in 1850’s Oregon. Whilst the genre is familiar the story moves in unexpected ways and portrays the empty ambition and loneliness of their chosen career.


This is a Western with a real difference.
In 1850, Oregon, a pair of sibling bounty-hunters, (played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly) are looking for their next target, a man en route for California who is guarding a potentially lucrative secret. Their mission will take the brothers all the way to the exotic territories of San Francisco and turn their lives up-side-down.

At first glance the two Sisters brothers are merely tough, flea-bitten assassins, but the more time we spend with them the more we realise that this pair of middle-aged wastrels are in fact childish, bickering improvisers who rarely know what they are doing or why they are doing it. They are unpredictable travelling companions, sometimes hilarious, often violent, but during their journey we come to realise the younger brother is a sweet soul caught up in what becomes a seemingly unending nightmare.

Working for a shadowy figure known only as ‘the commodore’, the duo is hot on the trail of Kermit Warm who is carrying an invention he claims is capable of locating gold, and their quest tosses the shambling brothers from one colourful scenario into another. This West is certainly wild, sometimes brutal, often surreal, and the French director Audiard constantly punctures the puffed up posturings of the tough guys who inhabit it, keeping things grubby and vital. The frontier towns are beautifully realised, but a long way from the set-piece splendour of a John Wayne classic. If you think events are heading towards a main street shoot – up between members of an odd-ball quartet, think again. The third act of the drama is full of wonderful weirdness and strange diversions: the Sisters Brothers gives a fresh jolt of electricity to the Old American West.

Not bad for a film based on a Canadian novel by a French director in Spain.

It is a terrific yarn about two uncivilised men grappling with the onset of civilisation.


            Weighted vote 85.88%