Movies Reilly steps it up for

The Georgia Straight - - Movies - By

LUM­BER­ING GUN­SLINGER Eli Sis­ters is a sort of anti-clint cow­boy— sen­si­tive, awk­ward, and re­fresh­ingly de­void of enigma. And he’s one of the big rea­sons French direc­tor Jac­ques Au­di­ard’s The Sis­ters Broth­ers feels like such a new spin on old west­erns: it’s a char­ac­ter study—not some­thing you usu­ally as­so­ciate with a shoot-’em-up, es­pe­cially one as blood-soaked as this.

Au­di­ard paints Eli (played epi­cally by John C. Reilly) and the rest of his char­ac­ters so thor­oughly here that you’ll swear you can smell them. The ac­tion cen­tres around the re­la­tion­ship that Reilly’s lik­able oaf has with his brother Char­lie (Joaquin Phoenix), who’s hard-drink­ing and volatile, and has an itchy trig­ger fin­ger. They ar­gue, fight, and tease each other—watch the fire­side trick where Char­lie pre­tends to whim­per in his sleep, then re­lent­lessly mocks Eli for com­ing to com­fort him. The broth­ers are child­ish and petty, but you’ll be sur­prised to find your­self grad­u­ally car­ing for both of them, and un­der­stand­ing why they are the way they are.

The two rough-and-tum­ble as­sas­sins are sent by their sin­is­ter boss to chase down a gold-rush prospec­tor who holds a valu­able se­cret. But in this wild west­ern, based on the novel by Cana­dian writer Pa­trick dewitt, the plan starts to go wrong from “Giddy-up!”

When they meet up with the prospec­tor, Au­di­ard has a fun time con­trast­ing the brutish Sis­ters broth­ers with the re­fined, ide­al­is­tic Her­mann (gen­tly and em­pa­thet­i­cally played by Riz Ahmed)—not to men­tion Jake Gyl­len­haal as John Mor­ris, a man whose im­pec­ca­ble enun­ci­a­tion and love of writ­ing may dis­guise a more tawdry role in all this.

Along the way, Au­di­ard (who di­rected Rust and Bone) takes us into the board­ing houses, field can­teens, small-town bor­del­los, and wilder­ness sup­ply shops that have sprouted up along the gold-rush route. He gives ev­ery­thing a sur­real flour­ish, from a scene of flam­ing horses ram­pag­ing out of a burn­ing barn to a pile of fine fur­ni­ture washed up on a seashore. And he drives ev­ery­thing with a puls­ing, jazzy score.

Au­di­ard’s em­pha­sis on char­ac­ter doesn’t mean this west­ern doesn’t have grue­some vi­o­lence. Bul­lets and blood fly. But here’s bet­ting the mo­ments you re­mem­ber the most are the qui­eter ones, like Eli try­ing his first tooth­brush or see­ing his first in­door toi­let. The Sis­ters Broth­ers is at its best when it’s play­ing with the con­trasts of two dirt-cov­ered Wild West men nav­i­gat­ing an ever-civ­i­liz­ing world—one where bul­lets and brute force don’t nec­es­sar­ily get things done any­more.

It’s a wind­ing but awe­somely en­ter­tain­ing ride, even for west­ern fans who’ve rid­den them thar hills many times be­fore.

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