'Sisters Brothers' mucks up Western genre

Annapurna Pictures

Ever walk out of a film feeling bamboozled, duped, tricked and deceived? That’s how I felt after walking out of “The Sisters Brothers.”

After seeing the trailer of the independent Western back in the summer, I was completely on board. A film with Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as brothers who double as bounty hunters along with Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed in supporting roles: count me in!

Then I saw it.

For a movie that takes so much pride in itself, it doesn’t earn the prestige it is going for. Before the movie starts, a blank screen fills up with several production houses that collaborated to make this movie – director Jacques Audiard’s first English language film. It seems like a labor of love – if one is looking at the cinematography and set design it is successful but the tone and the plot of the movie don’t make any sense.

The film can’t figure out whether it is supposed to be a dark comedy, as its trailer and title imply, or a serious Western. Instead, we get a strange amalgamation of both that tries to go for a powerful ending but instead makes you feel empty inside, wanting your money back on a ticket.

While the movie isn’t near the worst I have ever seen because it still has some decent jokes and John C. Reilly is untouchable, the fact it screws up a beloved Western genre so badly and had so much promise guarantees it will definitely go down as one of the most disappointing.

What I liked:

• Reilly has the range to be in “The Aviator” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Boogie Nights” and “Talladega Nights.” Although he can’t save this film, he makes it enjoyable when he is on screen. From curiously using toothpaste for the first time to having to deal with a scorpion stinging his mouth, he shines as Eli Sisters, a brother serving as the movie's moral center. Also I liked the diction Gyllenhaal’s character spoke with it making him seem like a higher member of society.

What I didn’t like:

• The plot doesn’t make any sense. Eli and Phoenix’s Charlie are tasked to find Ahmed’s Hermann Kermit Warm, a scientist who has figured out an easier way to find gold in riverbeds. The Sisters are supposed to meet up with their scout, John Morris (Gyllenhaal), and bring Warm back to their boss, The Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Morris and Warm find they are more alike and decide to leave town before the Sisters catch up. That part makes sense. Later on, when the Sisters catch up, they decide to join Morris and Warm and just ditch their job. There is no leadup to this point as while Eli wants out, Charlie doesn’t and when the moment comes, Charlie just goes along with it with no qualms.

• Also, near the end when the Sisters are coming back for revenge on the Commodore, we are expecting to get a big shootout but when they get back to town, the Commodore has died. It is supposed to be a big, funny moment, but it doesn’t feel like it. A huge problem with this movie is that if it is trying to be a dark comedy, it is mostly unfunny. How this movie is so critically acclaimed, I don’t know. It is a giant mess.

• Allison Tolman is a good actress who did a fantastic job in FX's "Fargo." Apparently Audiard never saw it because she is a little more than a cameo and is given nothing to do in her time in the film. 

Reason to watch:

I guess if you like the old west, but there are plenty of other good westerns that have come out recently. Maybe if you want to try to understand it more than I did, take a crack at it.

Rating: R for violence including disturbing images, language, and some sexual content.

My score: 50/100

Jordan Bishop is a member of the Stillwater News Press’ weekly movie podcast “Reel Talk” and can be reached at jbishop@stwnewspress.com.

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