The Sisters Brothers

Because of its goofy title, reminiscent of costar John C. Reilly's 2008 outing Step Brothers, one might be inclined to believe that The Sisters Brothers is a comedy. That would be a mistake. Although it contains a smattering of dark humor, this film is a rambling, esoteric, occasionally brutal Western. Don't come for the laughs.

Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix play the titular siblings, a chatty couple of hitmen in 1850s Oregon who work for a villain called "The Commodore" (Rutger Hauer, glimpsed only briefly). Their latest assignment is to kill a Gold Rush chemist (Riz Ahmed) who carries with him a secret that could lead to riches. In a somewhat unaccountable plot device, Jake Gyllenhaal plays another employee of the Commodore's who is sent ahead of the brothers to track down and befriend the chemist first. Much of the film cuts between the two pairs of men as they wend their way to California.

While there is a plot, and some themes are explored, The Sisters Brothers is primarily a character piece – no surprise, given that Reilly developed the project and serves as a producer. I've found that when actors are the driving force behind films, story tends to fall by the wayside, and the results are often a collection of interesting scenes that don't quite add up. Such is the case here.

Mind you, I did like the film, although I didn't love it. Shot mostly in Spain and made mostly by Frenchmen, it has a distinctly European vibe, with a deliberate pace, rich cinematography by Benoît Debie, and a rhythmic, jazzy score by the great Alexandre Desplat. But with its blend of gritty Western authenticity, decidedly modern interpretations from Reilly and Phoenix (Gyllenhaal at least speaks with a 19th century clip), and scenes that just kind of start and end, The Sisters Brothers isn't for everyone. You might love it, especially if you're into revisionist Westerns. More likely, you'll ask, "What's the point?" Regardless, kudos to the cast and crew for making something unique.