Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Film: The Sisters Brothers'

I'm in a quandary as to which side to come down on, a deeply unpleasant experience which has seared itself on my memory when I wish it hadn't, yet a film I can recognise as being significantly superior within the 'Westerns' genre . 

1853, starting in Oregon. The titular siblings, having the most unlikely surname of 'Sisters' (played by Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) are a pair of bickering professional assassins in pursuit of a gold prospector (British actor, Riz Ahmed - most impressive - and eye-catching!) whose travelling companion (Jake Gyllenhal) is, unbeknownst to the former, a private investigator keeping tabs on him while trying to let their pursuers know their shifting location towards and into California. I can't say much more about the story as there are a number of unexpected turns, usually violent, wrong-footing our expectations. Sometimes I had the impression that the director/writer is 'playing' with us. 

Numerous scenes of brutal violence and revulsion, some clearly intending to be comic though I found very little to laugh at, with some alarming episodes involving horses which, even if as surely they do, come under the qualification of "no animals were harmed", I found thoroughly upsetting - and a greater distraction for me than it would be for, probably, the majority of audiences. And I'll be carrying the memory of a certain spider episode for my remaining life! If you like your films to be 'strong' with a visceral kick, this is made for you.

It's not a film I'll ever see again (thank God!), lying in the same category as something like, say, 'Apocalypse Now' which I only ever saw on its initial release 40 years ago, yet as images from it haunt me still, so will it be with this.

Director Jaques Audiard ('Rust and Bone' 2012) undoubtedly knows what he's doing, shaking us out of sitting there in complacency, but I'd hesitate to claim this film as being anywhere near a 'masterpiece'. 
'A Clockwork Orange', just as violent, and which I have seen multiple times and will continue doing so, does qualify as a masterpiece. The genius of Kubrick, evident in every one of his films in fact, presents us with scenes (including violent ones as in 'Orange' - and 'Full Metal Jacket') with an artifice where one was always aware of a towering mind at work behind the camera and thus distancing the subject matter being portrayed, making it more acceptable to witness as 'entertainment'. (Hitchcock films are similar in that respect). I'd not put Audiard in anything like the same class. But, to be fair, what he aims at he achieves, and that ultimately, is what matters.

Strong stuff, then - and definitely not one for the faint-hearted and sensitive. As I say at the top, I'm not sure which way to land on this one. In terms of my own 'enjoyment' I'd rate it on the low side as there was precious little of that emotion. But ultimately I do appreciate it as a genuinely well-made film, perfectly constructed and very fine acting in every case of the four principals. 
When it's a question of head v. heart, usually the best advice is to go with the latter. However, in this case I think I'll have to come down on the other side, even though I may shortly be regretting it. So it's a.............7.5

(IMDb..................7.0 )




  1. I recently saw a preview for this, and while I don't really care for westerns, and while violence tends to shoo me away, there is Riz Ahmed.
    It might be worth it.

    1. I wasn't sure how well Ahmed was known, Bob - even I had to look him up to remind me of what he'd done. But in this he's definitely a dishy one, though in a style that may not be to everyone's taste, even if he pushes my buttons. Both he and hot-as-ever Jake G. (unusually not taking the main starring role, but one of an ensemble quartet) have all this crazy brutal guff around them, so you have to decide whether this double eye-candy is worth seeing despite all the rest. I've done my duty in warning you.
      Btw: I'm also not a Westerns fan, but this is so far from the 'cowboy' routine it's just on the edge of qualifying as such.

  2. You may have seen it already - in which case I am too late - but give Bone Tomahawk a miss then. I have a very strong stomach, but I will never watch that film again, and I will give Sisters Brothers a miss too, thanks...

    1. I don't recall the title at all, D., though I see it did get a release in this country in Feb 2016, though I doubt it having been more than a limited release as I don't remember it creating any waves. I only very rarely watch films on TV which I haven't seen before thought from what you say it's unlikely it would be shown there either. But thanks for your warning. If I get the chance I'll avoid!