Review – Deadly Siblings (“The Sisters Brothers”)

I love Westerns. Whether they’re comedic, a straight-forward drama, or something in-between, they’re a dying cinematic genre. Thankfully, every once in a while someone comes along and does justice to the breed and, in a twist, this movie is made by French screenwriter & director Jacques Audiard. Go figure!

Based on Patrick deWitt’s novel, this sometimes humorous, but more often brutal look at 1850 Oregon centers on two brothers named Sisters. Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters are contract killers for a wealthy man known only as the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Their newest assignment is finding a chemist and prospector named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) and extracting from him his secret formula for finding gold without having to pan for it. Also on Warm’s trail is detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is also under contract with the Commodore to locate the chemist and tell the brothers.

While Morris is on the road tailing and eventually making friends with Warm, the Sisters are getting in all sorts of mayhem as they travel from one piddly town after another, waiting to hear from Morris on his location. Besides their constant bickering, Eli is definitely his brothers keeper, as Charlie gets into trouble frequently with his drunkenness, with his brother having to bail him out. While the boys are running into problems in the town of Mayfield, Warm has learned who Morris really is, but will his visions of a utopian society be enough to sway Morris from contacting the deadly Sisters?

Pretty soon alliances form with everyone involved, especially with the thought of becoming rich (Warm’s formula really works!), but at what cost? There are arguments, lines are drawn, and a heart-breaking conclusion. And did I mention shooting? Oh yeah, there’s a whole lotta shooting as well, after all, this is a Western. What’s funny is this Western is brought to you by a Frenchman and it’s his first English language film here in the U.S.! How about that? Steeped in tradition and dripping in authenticity, director Audiard (who co-wrote this with Thomas Bidegain) looks like he’s been doing Westerns for years.

The adapted screenplay is a rich tapestry showing the character studies of not only the brothers, but Warm and Morris. Phoenix as the hot-head Charlie is superb, while Reilly plays against his usual comedic type and gives a deeply moving performance of a caring brother, even though he’s also a ruthless killer. The dialogue is bittersweet, sentimental, and caustic as the brothers often spare with each other. The pairing of Reilly & Phoenix is simply magic, while Gyllenhaal & Ahmed also have great chemistry. And, for such a small role, Allison Tolman is wonderful as a saloon girl hooker.

Audiard, although you haven’t seen any of his films here, expertly crafts this movie, delivering powerful direction; not only where to put the camera, but setting up POV shots that capture the person’s thoughts. Be aware, this picture does contain some particularly gruesome scenes, especially if you’re a horse lover.

The Brothers O’ Toole (1973)


*

You want a strange Western comedy? Here ya go! Back in the 70’s a weird sorta movie came out starring John Astin (from TV’s Addams Family) and a plethora of other noted television B-actors, including Astin’s real-life wife, Patty Duke in a cameo (herself a star of her own TV series), and Hans Conried (the 50’s Danny Thomas TV show)
 
This odd-duck Western story is about two quirky brothers on the lam in Colorado: Michael and Timothy O’Toole. Michael (Astin) is a pretentious huckster, card-playing, thesaurus-spewing know-it-all who’s penniless, thanks to a rigged card game. His idiot brother, Timothy (Steve Carlson), is a womanizing ne’er-do-well who narrowly escaped a shotgun wedding. Both meet up in the practically dead mining town of Molybdenum–which none of the residents can pronounce–so they call it “Molly-be-damned”. Problems start immediately as Michael is jailed in a case of mistaken identity.
 
The crooked Mayor (Jesse White) and dim-witted town sheriff (Allyn Joslyn) are positive that Michael is the notorious “Desperate” Ambrose Littleberry (also played by Astin). But at the trial (where the real Ambrose shows up in disguise), Mrs. Littleberry (Lee Meriwether) realizes the mistake and Michael is set free. But, seizing an opportunity to make money, Michael and Timothy decide to open up a town gambling hall. More problems arise when Michael is arrested… again… but for running away because of Timothy’s womanizing ways.
 

The third act is a real deus ex machina written in to tie up loose ends as Hans Conried shows up as pompous Polonius Vandergelt, the richest man in Colorado. He tells the town that their vast supply of useless Molybdenum ore is actually worth untold millions! Every resident in town is now filthy rich! Well, waddaya know! The Brother’s O’Toole skedaddle outta town… just in case something else goes wrong!

Marion Hargrove (who wrote mostly TV shows like Fantasy Island and The Waltons) and prolific playwright Tim Kelly (who cranked out over 300 plays!) wrote this rather dull & contrived little comedy that tries SO VERY HARD to be funny, and never gets there. Bogged down with dumb dialogue, clichés of every kind, a very strange plot, and that terrible ending, makes this a movie that Astin would rather forget. This and his Attack of the Killer Tomatoes movie, I guess.

The director, Richard Erdman, an accomplished actor himself, only directed two other movies and some Dick Van Dyke TV shows, so his techniques behind the camera weren’t solid. This was a shame because there was some real potential in the ludicrous script to have some crazy fun with the script that wasn’t explored. Astin was able to spew some eloquent “cuss words” in a key scene soliloquy, but that’s about the only funny part of the film.

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