By Jack Dignan
This has everything I could possibly want from a movie. An all star cast featuring the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, all acting alongside each other in dark western/comedy/drama hybrid, co-written and directed by an acclaimed foreign filmmaker, Jacques Audiard, who’s making his English language debut. It sounds like the perfect film. It was one of my most anticipated of the fall movie season. And yet, sadly, I just couldn’t get into it, which appears to be an unpopular opinion.
The Sisters Brothers has been a passion project of Reilly’s for quite some time. After optioning for the film rights in 2011, his seven-year journey of bringing this to the big screen has finally come into fruition. It’s a moving and melancholic tale of two brothers struggling to deal with the traits inherited from their alcoholic father while living in the Wild West. Reilly and Phoenix play the titular brothers, whose story is sadder and more personal than the comedic in tone trailers would have you believe. Their relationship is tested as Reilly’s Eli begins to see a life beyond all the violence and mayhem he and Charlie have been dealing with for so many years, and it’s this conflict that serves as our main point of interest.
There’s beauty and sentiment to be found in so many places throughout, and the ending definitely packs a punch with an impressive and emotional unbroken shot that travels through time and wraps these character’s stories up, but the connective tissue between the individual plot beats feels weak. It’s not necessarily a slice of life movie, where things are just happening in these characters’ lives and we watch it unfold without a semblance of order, but the plot isn’t sophisticated or thorough enough to make me care either. An attempt at plot is made involving Ahmed and Gyllenhaal’s characters searching for an innovative new way to look for gold, but it doesn’t really get interesting until the third act.
I struggled to find a clear goal or overall intention within this film’s structure. It’s certainly beautifully shot, especially the shootouts, and it truly is wonderful to see all these actors all on the big screen together, especially in a western no less, but the whole thing just feels awfully derivative. There’s certainly a plethora of obvious western tropes, both in plot and character, and it’s themes of the demons inherited from our parents and the way that shapes us into us are unique to the setting, but the crux of the story feels familiar in nearly every way.
I guess I can see why this film works for so many people – the brilliant performances bring to life a very calm, meditative western in a story that’s seemingly hitting close to home for many viewers, but it’s a film I struggled to connect with. I genuinely tried to enjoy this film, and really wish that I did, but a brilliant third act struggles to make up for a meandering first two. This is the first Jake Gyllenhaal movie I’ve (semi) disliked in over a decade, although, to be fair, I never did get around to watching Accidental Love.
2 1/2 Stars
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