The Sisters Brothers

This is one of those instances where I’m having a hard time telling if this is objectively a good movie or not, because it contained such a murderer’s row of specific things I personally enjoy. It means that when I look back it’s not really stored in my brain as a movie as much as a series of pleasing vignettes. Perhaps this is my personal Ballad of Buster Scruggs?

But if I’m gonna describe this generally, and that’s what I’ve set out to do here, I’m pretty sure The Sisters Brothers is a meandering (but in an existentially on-theme way), surprisingly sensitive and also just surprising Western slash maybe darkly comic fable in which everyone’s delivery style is basically the opposite of Jeff Bridges in True Grit. Like, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly—the titular Sisters—are out here in eastern Oregon territory in 1851 clearly articulating all the letters in “Yes” in response to each other’s queries and brotherly arguing around the campfire about whether you should really use the word “victimized” to describe slights against some sort of shadowy Old West mob boss (theirs) only known as The Commodore, who inexplicably has this big emblem on the entrance to his large house composed of two noble mermen. Meanwhile the colors and camerawork are really very beautiful, and the score is by Alexandre Desplat and inspired by jazz combos, electric violin, and spare experimentalist John Cage of all things.

But if I’m going to try to explain the elements that to me make up the overwhelming portion of what this movie has to recommend itself, I’m gonna need to tell you about, *ahem*:

Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed as the Slow West Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin

JAKE GYLLENHAAL, who has not forgotten how to be queer in a Western setting, appears a few scenes into this movie as Morris (eventually and tellingly, if you like to believe everyone is always ready for an E.M. Forster reference, Charlie Sisters will slide to calling him Maurice): a fancily mannered, constantly journaling, Gold Rush PI-for-hire with some form of British accent, who has been tasked with tracking down Hermann Kermit Warm (oh okay), for nefarious reasons he does not as of yet fully comprehend (but give the plot time)!

Warm is RIZ AHMED, oddball frontier chemist & twink, who is appalled by greed and cruelty and wants to get the Star Trek future started several centuries early by establishing the beginnings of a post-capitalist utopia based on Mutual Respect, Science, and Self-Improvement, and he’s so beautiful and quaint and sweet that anyone who talks to him for more than two minutes is like y’know what, yeah I’m gonna follow this 5’6” (a metric mentioned in dialogue) prospector Gene Roddenberry to Dallas (sure) to join his New Society.

So these two have a meet-cute in the Old West equivalent of a hipster coffee shop that runs through pretty much every beat of Aubrey and Maturin’s first lunch in Patrick O’Brien’s legendary Napoleonic seafaring adventure/rom-com Master & Commander, only with the added spice that Morris is deceiving Warm all while becoming steadily besotted. “Make haste!” his letter reads to the Sisters brothers after he has ~obtained~ Warm. “—before I fall in love with him!” I added in soto voce to my friend next to me. And then it just keeps going, being gold. Sometimes literally.

I mean don’t let me mislead you into thinking this is just a romp, as it’s definitely a Western where shit definitely turns very unfortunate and gruesome. But still, worth driving out to see at a second-run theater way off in the east side where the tickets cost about the same price as the big artisan donuts you brought in.

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