It’s a joke we hear in the preview, and it’s a fun one to say: Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play the Sisters brothers. They’re brothers, but also Sisters. GET IT? While there’s some additional wordplay here (for instance, can a ridiculously rich and powerful white man really be “victimized” when he’s robbed?), The Sisters Brothers spends far more time on the “dark” side of the “dark comedy” genre.
We think we’re getting a story about how the Sisters brothers (Charlie and Eli, played by Phoenix and Reilly, respectively) are doing one last job for their boss, The Commodore, which involves tracking down and killing a specific prospector who might have a chemical solution to a the exceedingly manual process of extracting gold from rivers. We also think we’ll be seeing Jake Gyllenhaal (coming in with a curiously clipped accent) help with the tracking of said prospector (Riz Ahmed), but what comes together about 60 minutes in is much different. There’s lots of discussion about fathers and father figures, and how our decisions are impacted by our upbringing, including our propensity for violence.
One thing can be said for this film: they make 1850s Oregon and northern California look stunning. There’s many, many establishing shots, but with scenery this majestical, why would you not? However, this untamed wilderness comes at a cost. You can do pretty much whatever you want (including shooting down your bounty or people trying to bounty hunt you in broad daylight), but nature is going to hit right back. When it takes the form of a giant grizzly or a poisonous forest spider (nope, nope, nope), the real and present danger is right in your face. Also: it’s just as bad of an idea to pour caustic chemicals into a river in as you’d think it would be.
The four male leads dominate almost every scene here, and there’s really not much to say for a supporting cast. Carol Kane and Rebecca Root do amazing stuff with the half dozen lines they’re given, but the focus of the story is almost exclusively on the Sisters brothers and their targets. We know all four of them are amazing in about everything they do, and they don’t disappoint here.
Having not read the book, I was a bit nervous on the title credits, seeing as how 53,425 studios (approximately) had their hand in producing and distributing this film. There’s a bit of disconnect in tone throughout the movie, and the script sometimes veers into randomness, but the end result is something chillingly and disturbingly beautiful.