'The Sister Brothers'

Don't let the old-western title confuse you, "The Sister Brothers" doesn't live up to the legacy of any gunslinger classics.

Unfortunately, diehard fans of the western film genre will find the catchy-titled “The Sisters Brothers” movie bland and underwhelming. 

Despite a powerful ensemble of Hollywood heavyweights, including two of the best in Jake Gyllenhaal and Joaquin Phoenix, the story is watered down from a script that lacks any measure of suspense. Throw in main characters with tumbleweed thin backgrounds and the audience is left with not a care in the world how this west coast journey unfolds in 1851.

Based on the novel by Patrick DeWitt by the same name, “The Sisters Brothers” follows two hitmen (Phoenix and John C. Reilly) charged to track down a prospector, Hermann Kermit Warm, who has developed a toxic material that if poured into a river or stream will reveal the location of hidden gold. Warm, portrayed by Emmy-winning rap artist and star of HBO’s 2016 series “The Night Of” Riz Ahmed, is accompanied on his journey from Oregon to San Francisco by John Morris (Gyllenhaal).

A dark comedy minus any hint of laughter or suspense, “The Sisters Brothers” relies on picturesque landscape and shocking gimmicks to toy with the audience. Behind a bizarre accent from Gyllenhaal’s Morris character is a dialogue-heavy script that never allows the talented actor or the 3-time Academy Award nominated Phoenix to truly shine as either competitors or comrades in arms.

French director Jacques Andiard presents this American western from the perspective found across the Atlantic. His English-speaking film debut never garners excitement or funnels viewers towards a climatic engagement between white hat and black hat rivals on a dusty main street. Instead, snoozing moviegoers are jarred awake by gruesome scenes of a horse mutilation, spider bite and amputation of a gunfighter’s arm. 

“The Sisters Brothers” never stays long enough in one town or within one scene to make a powerful plot statement and get us fully invested in the film’s outcome. Jake Gyllenhaal and Joaquin Phoenix pour as much into the script as humanly possible, yet neither can turn a choppy storyline into a compelling, nerve wrecking Gold Rush ordeal.

Faithful western movie connoisseurs will be able to forge through “The Sisters Brothers” and its anticlimactic two hours, but do not waste your hard-earned money at the box office window. 

Grade: D

“The Sisters Brothers” is rated R with a running time of 2 hours.

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at reelbrief.com. Email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com

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