I firmly believe there are two kinds of movie-goers. There’s someone who enjoys a film based on its cinematic merits and those who simply enjoy a film. There’s nothing specifically wrong with either type of film fan. The problem lies in the relationship between the two, though.
I’m the latter. I go into a film, and my only concern is my reaction upon leaving: Did I enjoy the movie? Did I have fun? Can I honestly walk away thinking I would be OK if I saw the film again, or do I hope it never comes across my TV screen?
Then, there’s the cineaste. My boyfriend is one of these, and while I admire his opinion, it also can be quite frustrating. Take “Predator,” for example. The film was absolute crap, but my boyfriend found it hard to admit it, maintaining focus on director Shane Black’s talents and trying to avoid the fact that this film hurt his auteur status.
This brings me to “The Sisters Brothers,” the first English-language film by director Jacque Audiard, his favorite director. Audiard also is a co-writer on the film. I haven’t seen any of Audiard’s films, but supposedly, he’s amazing.
Apparently, I’d seen the trailer for “The Sisters Brothers,” but I remembered little beyond the fact it’s a Western starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as the titular brothers, last name Sisters, in case you were wondering.
The brothers, Charlie (Phoenix) and Eli (Reilly) are guns for hire, most often working under the orders of the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). The brothers aren’t really great human beings, although efforts are made to humanize Eli. Charlie is a horrible human being, and I was glad when bad things befell him. I’m not saying he dies; I’m just saying he’s not a very nice man, and when things didn’t go his way, I was glad.
The film centers on the Sisters brothers’ quest to kill Mr. Herman Warm (Riz Ahmed) — whose last name is pronounced no less than five different ways throughout the course of the film. Warm is a chemist who has found a scientific way to pan for gold. The film is set during the late 1800s, so the great gold rush in San Francisco is a prominent player.
Warm — seriously, I really didn’t know this was his name till I looked it up on IMDB — is aided in his quest by John Morris (Jake Gyllenhall), who is a character I never really understood. He’s a tracker for the Commodore. The friendship he builds with Warm, who I’m pretty certain he calls Wall at a point or two, is odd but is meant to be endearing, I think.
For me, details are a big part of the story. I have found that accents, bad wigs, convoluted storylines and mispronounced names take me out of the film I’m watching. I can’t help it. All of these things draw my attention, justifiably or not, to the reality — or unreality, in this particular case — of what I’m seeing. I can’t help it.
“The Sisters Brothers” is not a bad film, at least in terms of its technical merits. I don’t have much to say against any of these things. However, I found myself bored more times than not while watching all of these beautiful landscapes and montages of vignettes. Maybe that makes me sound like less of a cineaste than my boyfriend, who speaks with an eloquence that rivals Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy whenever he discusses his favorite directors.
I don’t begrudge him his opinions, which he earnestly holds, but I find that his ardor has blinded him to certain facts — at least in respect to this film. Characters need to be likable, relatable or understandable if there’s any hope for us to connect with them. Every character here isn’t any of those three, and I found myself adrift in the narrative flotsam and jetsam around me. There was nothing for me to latch on to, so I sank.
Bottom line: “The Brothers Sisters” is recommended only for arthouse fans. I wish that I could recommend this to everyone, but its charms are too slight for anyone but those who are most likely to hear its siren song. (And, we all know what happens to those mariners who heard the siren’s song.)