“From all over the planet they came . . . tore themselves from warm hearths and good homes, promising to return; they fled from cold hearts and bad debts, never to return . . . [t]hey were the pillars of their communities, and their communities’ dregs[.]”
Lost in the penumbras of a chosen genre, the latest from Jacques Audiard finds him, like his characters, in an unexplored region searching for treasure and purpose. As Adam Graham (Detroit News) correctly pointed out, a film that “feels like a journey in search of a destination” — a “misguided mess” with mild-mannered humor and discursive dialogue that flounders in intellectual deftness far too long for serious audiences to appreciate.
Sisters Brothers is based on a novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt that depicts two (poorly casted) brothers on a mission during the 1851 California Gold Rush to retrieve a chemical formula from Riz Ahmed (sporting a $50 haircut) that helps illuminate gold in river beds in an effort to cut down on the hard labor involved in mining. The Brothers lose the track, regain the track, find the purse, find the product, and in the process, inadvertently have a mishap that feels like a ridiculous ploy to end the film in under the two-hour mark. A lot of gun fire, sure, but the entire cast for some reason feels like a West World episode where the guests are lost in an antiquated land searching for meaning and surviving the elements one gunfight at a time. Certain scenes carry inexplicable utility (e.g. the spider) that the audience will have to deduce meaning from since it otherwise served none (e.g. antidote to chemicals?).
Despite what Cary Darling (Houston Chronicle) said, I am a very patient movie watcher who prefers the long-treks to develop a solid script and I found little to appreciate aside from the few choice scenes of scenery from the film and the amputation, which the film desperately needed, having found itself on life-support for well over an hour at that point. Anyone who knows Audiard’s A Prophet will see glimmers of his old self in some of the violence, but not enough to leave an impression that validates the enthusiasm of American critics (although average score is at a C- despite overall % at 85).
While David Sims (The Atlantic) is mostly wrong about how “special” the film “feels,” he does point to one moment where the movie had potential had the writers indulged it further.
Warm [i.e. Ahmed] is an optimist, possessed of an egalitarian vision of the frontier’s future, where things like his formula can be used to advance the greater good and create more progressive communities. It’s an aspect of the Wild West that’s usually underdiscussed: the notion that a radically open-minded society, not just more bloodshed, could spring out of lawlessness.
Audiard steps into the American speaking world and makes a film deserving of the current Hollywood reputation bent on manufacturing forgettable films with poor scripts. To quote Patrick deWitt: “Luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had to come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it.”
In Sisters Brothers, I’m calling Audiard’s bluff.