The western is kind of a lost genre. So sometimes it is nice to see a western come out and be legitimately good. The Sisters Brothers is one of these movies.
There is a fairly simple plot here: in the 1850s, two assassins – the Sisters Brothers – are given a job to go after a man who owes a debt to their employer. But as they travel south from Oregon to California, they are confronted with the difficulties of their relationship as brothers and the implications of those difficulties.
This is where the real theme of the movie comes in. There is a lot of content that is just fun action or interactions on the surface, but it is all driven by this relationship between the two brothers. Eli (John C. Riley), the older of the two, is about ready to be done with this life, while Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) wants to stay in the business forever, because he is good at it and it is all that he knows. Eli loves his brother, and that is the only aspect of this life that keeps him invested. In this, the film gets to explore the importance people place on the different things in their lives. And it does this well, making the audience invest in these brothers and their relationship.
But this isn’t the only pair of people that is focused on. John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) are the people that the Sisters Brothers are chasing after, and they get a fair amount of screen time as well. Their scenes show an internal moral conflict in Morris. He has to make a decision about how to treat a fellow person that alters the plot.
Beyond the themes in this movie, it is well-made in its own right. The acting is great with four seasoned and respected actors. Joaquin Phoenix predictably steals the show by nature of his character, but John C. Riley brings a muted and layered performance. He has the responsibility of carrying the most emotional weight. Gyllenhaal and Ahmed also add to their portfolio of great performances, even with the relative lack of screen time.
A standout score by Alexandre Desplat and stunning visuals of the western frontier bring everything together for The Sisters Brothers. This western tale we’ve seen so many times still manages to be fresh and new because of these performances, themes, and visuals.