The Sisters Brothers review “A slow burn that never lights”


The Sisters Brothers movie posterJoaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Riz Ahmed, and Jake Gyllenhaal all in a comedy-western, directed by Jacques Audiard which was given fantastic reviews and an amazing trailer sounds like it should combine to make one of the best movies of 2018, right?

I saw this on the film’s opening day in a surprisingly empty theatre and was extremely excited as it had been delayed by weeks. I patiently watched as the trailers and opening credits rolled by, with an entire screen filled with all the production companies moved past to the opening scene. Now, I haven’t seen many westerns, but the ones I have I really enjoy. Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight are fantastic films, both of which I own on Blu-Ray. However, with The Sisters Brothers, I was severely disappointed, and let me discuss why.

So the film does have some good aspects, and the first and foremost of those is the lead performance from John C. Reilly. Reilly, who is no stranger to receiving critical acclaim, especially for roles in comedies such as Chicago or Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, even receiving an Academy Award nomination for the former. While Reilly’s character, Eli Sister, is not very likable, his performance is very nuanced. You can see how he does care for his brother in just a look of Reilly’s eyes and you feel his emotion from every painstaking look that he gives. Reilly is just spectacular in the film.

Another thing which The Sisters Brothers does well is the production and costume design is quite dazzling. Each of the small towns the brothers head has a distinct style in both wardrobe and set design, Mayfield being the most distinct with its Racoon hats and mysterious rooms.

John C Reilly in The Sisters Brothers

© Annapurna Pictures

Also, each of the main characters outfits are very tailored to them as a person. Charlie has a lot of bravado and flair in his outfits, especially in San Francisco, while Eli has very modest and humble attire, excluding one item given to him at the beginning of the film, and it really improves the film as a whole.

Sadly, that is the end of the list as even though the cinematography was fabulous, I can’t fill a paragraph on it, so I should probably discuss the bad now. First and foremost is the fact the characters are simply unlikable, with the standout in that category being Phoenix’s Charlie Sisters. Charlie is quite simply irritating due to his incredibly high levels of arrogance and what seems like a lack of care for his brother. However, while he does change throughout the film and becomes tolerable, Eli does not.

Eli, on the other hand, is also a somewhat selfish character who basically just whines about being lugged around for nearly the entire movie. However, they both have some defining characteristics, but Gyllenhaal’s John Morris, aside from his very odd accent, is extremely bland with no memorable qualities about him. For a movie like this to succeed, you need to have likable characters and Sisters Brothers fails in that aspect.

Another thing I really did not enjoy about the film was the surprising lack of comedy. While the trailer, along with a great cover of “Tainted Love” featured many funny moments, including the “Hit Me” scene which was the comedic high point of the trailer. In the film, it is actually quite dull and incredibly funny. Actually, I would say that joke is a metaphor for the entire movie, as not a single joke landed for me in the film. I believe if the comedy wasn’t highlighted in the trailer, I would not have been nearly as disappointed, but that is one huge mistake the film never recovers from.

Finally, the last thing I want to discuss is the film’s story and pacing, which means if I want to emulate that aspect with this sentence, it means I need to make it so it seems like this sentence is extremely important and groundbreaking when it really isn’t and also make sure it goes on for much, much too long. The Sisters Brothers is a movie which clocks in at 121 minutes, about the same length as Crazy Rich Asians, but it feels more like Blade Runner: 2049 with just how slow it is.

The first half hour sets up everything with the plot, and while that is commendable, it does make the film incredibly front heavy. The main problem with that is that the remaining 90 minutes I was looking at my watch thinking “It simply cannot be much longer!” The fact that the plot feels like it is always just about to reach a climax (The Brothers finding Worm and Morris especially) only adds to the problem, and the actual climax only piles on as it sets up what could be some amazing western action into a solitary scene that tries to be funny but falls flat on its face, which is another fantastic metaphor for the film.

So to close, I was severely disappointed by The Sisters Brothers. However, I would recommend seeing it purely for the performance from John C. Reilly. It is among the best leading performances so far this year so it definitely has that going for it. However, that is the only reason you should watch this film, as the exceedingly dull film is a massive disappointment on nearly every level of the film.

⭐ ⭐

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