The Gold Rush is one but for famous bounty hunter brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters, that means less prospecting and more tracking down a chemist with a gold revealing formula.
I see a lot of movies which end up feeling like they belong in a middle ground mish mash category or genre. “The Sisters Brothers” is one such film that kept me guessing from pretty much the first scene to the last.
The Sisters Brothers is the story of Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix, “Gladiator”) and Eli (John C. Reilly, “Holmes and Watson), a couple of bounty hunters whose ruthless tactics and brutality preceed them wherever they go. The Commodore, their enigmatic boss-man, sets them on the trail of a chemist named Herman (Riz Ahmed, “Rogue One”), with orders to bring him back.
The journey to track him down is a long one through multiple small towns all enjoying or lamenting various degrees of success or failure during the Gold Rush that has everyone heading out to San Francisco. The journey is made even longer when their friend and co-worker John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal, “Spider-man: Far From Home”), who made first contact with Herman, decides to double cross them and team up with Herman. Eventually the Brothers do catch up with them and well, you’ll have to watch to find out what sort of arrangements they all work out together.
Trying to nail down the subject or focus of this movie isn’t really an easy prospect. The story is fairly straightforward but the characters themselves are not. Neither is the tone of the film.
The characters are the highlight of the film. They are each unique and stereotype bending examples of specific complexity and eccentric quirk.
Eli is the older brother of the two and more soft-than Charlie. Charlie is the sort of man that drinks and whores more than his fair share and doesn’t even see that his brother is protecting him from getting robbed or in over his head the whole time. Together, the pair of them create a dynamic wherein they are both protecting each other but are also enabling each other in their various vices.
On the downside, this dynamic is not that interesting or compelling. I wasn’t expecting to say that about this film. I normally like movies about brothers but I just found it hard to care about the characters and their relationship. In fact the film actively takes steps that rob you as an audience member of the time you need to get to know and love the Sisters Brothers.
About 50% of this film is focused on another couple, John Morris and Herman. John Morris is scouting ahead of the Brothers and sends word to them that he found the chemist they are looking for. Normally, he would just tail Herman and keep an eye on him but Herman, and incredibly aware human being, notices John Morris and so far from being afraid that someone is after him, he is excited to make his acquaintance and travel with him.
Through this relationship we find out that Herman has a formula that will allow him to find gold by just dumping the substance into a river. He is used to having people come after him for the secret but what he really wants to do with the money is set up a ranch/commune in Texas. When John Morris hears this, he decides he wants to join him.
This idea was really interesting to me and and the characters seemed more fully realized. Unfortunately for me, these aren’t the main characters of the movie. Every time we switch back to the Sisters Brothers i found myself wishing I was watching John Morris and Herman.
I think the director was trying to make some commentary on family, money, an religion but it never got rounded out and by the end, I couldn’t care less about whether the Brothers won, lost, or some combination of both.
On top of all of this, the trailer and even the opening felt like this film was leaning hard on the Dark Comedy end of the spectrum yet as the film progressed it got to be more of a straight shot serious drama than I was expecting. The film had its funny moments, for sure, but a film with an all star cast like this one needs an all star story to bring it home and this one just didn’t have what it takes to rise above a middle-ing just decent movie.
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