The Goss brothers meets the Coen brothers in this Western about bickering siblings (Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly) chasing another pair of men (Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal) for their chemical formula used to find gold – essentially The Good, the Breaking Bad and the Ugly.
The Western isn’t a genre with much scope for innovation, but Jacques Audiard brings the aptly named Patrick deWitt’s novel to the screen with a fresh perspective, lightness of touch and glowing cinematography. The prospector’s formula turns gold phosphorescent in water, an effect dazzlingly photographed by Benoît Debie. Likewise there are pitch-black shootouts lit only by flashes of gunfire; a spark in the dark of which Alice Cooper would be proud, and which illuminates the film’s timely themes.
Set against the California Gold Rush and the dawn of modern sanitation (Reilly’s character is an early adopter of the toothbrush), the movie discusses a hopeful spark of civilisation in the darkest, most violent of times. Westerns traditionally traded in often racist nostalgia for the freedom of pioneer days, but The Sisters Brothers has a more sensitive, Neo-Western approach that asks if there can be trust without order and calls for cooperation and friendship in the face of lawlessness and division.
Here the Sisters brothers appear to be among the fortunate ones as long as they have each other’s companionship, although not as fortunate as their wealthy boss (oddly a non-speaking role for Rutger Hauer). Phoenix and Reilly play this fraught, believable relationship perfectly, while Ahmed and Gyllenhaal stage a welcome Nightcrawler reunion. This formula of great acting, radiant cinematography and thoughtful relevance is one that strikes gold.