According to the opening credits, about a dozen different companies helped finance “The Sisters Brothers.”
It’s amazing one or two of them couldn’t see what a boring, unbankable dud they had on their hands.
Rarely has so much talent and money been wasted on something so insipid.
“The Sisters Brothers,” you see, has a few of the elements one wants in a good Western: palpable period authenticity; location scenery filmed with an eye for beauty and majesty; and carefully choreographed shoot-outs -- including the one-of-a-kind opener, shot at dusk in real light, so all we see are guns blazing back and forth from both sides of a shadowy landscape.
But the dialog is uninspired and too modern, peppered with anachronistic F-bombs and pointless observations; the characters are ciphers; and the plot -- well, they seem to be making it up as they go along, determined mostly to emphasize the sordid, the squalid, the disgusting and the sad.
Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star as the titular pair, who work for a mysterious figure called the Commodore; they’re good with guns, and they do what he wants -- in this case, pursuing an apparently likable young man who (so the boss claims) welshed on a business deal.
Turns out this fellow (nicely played by Riz Ahmed) has actually invented a speedier process for finding gold in mountain streams; the brothers are supposed to find him, torture the secret out of him and then bump him off, aided by a somewhat foppish middleman played by Jake Gyllenhaal.
As the brothers wander haplessly from one weird encounter to another, their tale is neither clear nor appealing. Take, for instance, the ghastly spider scene: It’ll make many viewers nauseous, yet it serves no symbolic, thematic or narrative purpose that I could see. And the entire film is like this. We’re never even sure whom to like or root for -- though Reilly does a fine job with a character who eventually becomes our sole anchor.
The story doesn’t develop momentum until we finally see Ahmed’s prospecting process at work; but this scene quickly becomes just as ugly as the others. The whole film, in fact, is ugly, ugly, ugly -- until the end.
I was glad for the tranquil and upbeat conclusion, but it ultimately serves as a too-little-too-late contrast to all the gunk that came before.
Make no mistake: Despite its goofy title, quirky cast and amusing previews, “The Sisters Brothers” is not a fun or happy film. I came within an ace of walking out; but it’s my job to sit through crappy movies.
It doesn’t have to be yours.
“The Sisters Brothers,”
directed by Jacques Audiard
Run time: 121 min.
* 1/2 (out of four)
Rated R for violence including disturbing images, language and some sexual content