Once upon a time in California
The sisters brothers
Film. The Jacques Audiard movie, awarded in Venice and selected 9 times at the Caesar, manages to reinvent the rules of the Western. Breathtaking !
By Jacques Braunstein
A lot of delayed westerns, from The Dollars Trilogy of Sergio Leone to Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, tell the story of greed that built the United States. The Sisters Brothers doesn’t escape the rule. Two hit men, two brothers : Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) and Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) start on a chemist’s trail (Riz Ahmed). This one holds a formula that makes it possible to find gold without dredging tons of pebbles. They are preceded by a dandy and scholar detective (Jake Gyllenhaal). But nothing will happen as planned. The protagonists will sympathize and consider living together between bromance and Fourierist utopia.
This outrageous narrative allows the film to avoid the western clichés or rather to send them without any other form of trial. The majestic landscapes are crossed at a gallop. While the gunfights are shot in few plans, reported by lightning in the dark, or seen from afar through a dirty window. What good is it to raise the suspense since the Sisters Brothers always come out victorious, it’s their destiny, and their curse.
The camera lingers, on the contrary, on a gold digger camp, where San Francisco, the bubbling country that discover, amazed, the two brothers who have never seen one. Alternatively on the John C. Reilly mouth. When a spider lays eggs while he’s sleeping under the stars. When he finds out the use of the toothbrush… The movie is bathed in surreal and desperate humor, at the opposite of Tarantino caustic punchlines. Just as the violence : it’s never where it is expected.
The french filmmaker Jacques Audiard (Dheepan, A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped…) and his usual scenarist (Thomas Bideguin) are trying to show a little more of this badly known time. We are in 1851, twenty years before the classic age of the western.
It’s John C. Reilly, big actor in a eclectic career (Step Brothers, Carnage, The Lobster…) who discovered the Patrick de Witt book, which the film is adapted. It’s him who convinced the filmmaker which he’s a fan. Reilly is also the film co-producer and plays the role of Eli Sisters, who is a perfect vehicle for the Oscar. A role in halftone while his brother one, blazing desperadoes, is more agreed. Eli would like to change his profession, but he is obliged to continue to protect this alcoholic and suicidal little brother. This very quiet hero character conveys all the mythology of the western to which the film constantly tries to turn its back. Paradoxical and elegant.