Jacques Audriard (Personal Shopper) has created a serviceable yet unremarkable Western that seems to delight in perpetuating well-worn tropes.
Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are the Sisters brothers. They are guns for hire in 1850s Oregon, known for their brutality and ruthlessness. The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) holds the power in their town and gives them the job of dispatching the delightfully named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). It’s a three-man operation with John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) befriending Warm and delaying him until the brothers arrive.
Morris is a cultured man, writing keen observations of those around him in a journal. As his friendship with Warm grows, he has doubts about the morality of his mission. But the Sisters brothers, like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, are the relentless consequences of his choices.
The heart of the film is the dynamic between Eli and Charlie. We are fed snippets of their past and come some way to understanding what drives them. Eli is in many ways an ‘everyman’ and is the closest to idealised contemporary masculinity. He wants more from his life than he has been given, more than the limited life that is all Charlie thinks is possible. Morris and Warm are progressives too but they have the idealism of hipsters; out of sync with the realities of their world.
There is a humanity to the development of the characters that is absorbing and Reilly and Phoenix are particularly good. There are virtually no female characters – par for the course with a traditional Western but disappointing nonetheless. It seems there were no pioneering women out there with a part to play in the story of two white blokes.
Overall it doesn’t feel like Audriard has brought anything new to the genre. It is meandering and introspective and doesn’t unfold exactly as you’d expect but sometimes plods and at other times is expected in its brutality.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.