for Cinetalk.net

The Sisters brothers, based upon Canadian author Patrick DeWitt (Governor General’s Literary award 2012)’s book, is multiple awards winner director Jacques Audiard first English language film. Audiard won the silver Lion for best director at the Venice film Festival last September. The film features a stellar cast: Joaquin Phoenix & John C. Reilly (as the Sisters Brothers) along Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Amhed.

America, mid 19th century. Two brothers, two vicious hired killers. A mysterious man, the Commodore, puts them on the trail of a chemist (Amhed) amidst the craze of the gold rush. They are assisted with this assignment by John Morris (Gyllenhaal) who makes first contact with the man and pretend to befriend with him. But growing consciences could muddy the waters…

Reilly’s production company bought the rights to DeWitt’s novel and when Audiard signed on, he worked on the screenplay with longtime collaborator Thomas Bidegain. Audiard regulars, editor Juliette Welfling and Oscar winner Alexandre Desplats also came on board. The director mentioned, in previous interviews, he never thought about doing a Western prior to Reilly’s proposal. But it makes sense. Some of his recurring themes (vengeance, conscience in a confine warzone, power shifting, etc) are good premises in a Western setting. They are part of the Euro-western heritage.

It may be the genre of genres, but Jacques Audiard’s personal signature is not lost in the dust. Welfling editing sets this unusual pace they developed together through numerous collaborations. Desplats is at his best working with the director with equal part hints of tradition, experimentation and Euro-Western music. The Almeria Desert, a long-time stand-in for these Euro-made cowboy stunner is well served by Benoit Debie’s cinematography. Gaspard Noé’s main camera guy enters Audiard’s frame with panache right from the opening sequence: an establishing shot in the dark with faraway lights from a gunfight. This is Audiard’s country.

Though the tone and tongue are a bit too formal, as in most intellectual neo-Westerns (Coen included), this dark tale is not devoid of humor and grit. The cast is pretty convincing as DeWitt, Bidegain and Audiard’s allow them to depict a quartet in which each member develops a set of burgeoning morality (in an impossible time and place for such things) each with different momentum, and on a different level of evolution, right out of Rudolph F. Zallinger’s March of progress.

FNC Screening: Saturday October 6, 1PM, Imperial Cinema

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