Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Film
3 April 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 10:48am

The Sisters Brothers is an unexpected take on the Western

By Anna Leszkiewicz

The Sisters Brothers opens with a shoot-out on a rural ranch, filmed in pitch black. The only light comes from the gunpowder that bursts into flame when triggers are pulled, and eventually a blazing barn. A whinnying horse runs from the flames. “How many did we kill, seven?” a voice asks. Meet Charlie and Eli Sisters, a pair of sibling assassins. They’re no-nonsense yet accident-prone, unrehearsed but reliable, bickering and loyal: cruel, calculating killers with an air of childlike innocence. Together, they bumble their way through jobs with surprising efficiency. But while Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) has no qualms with his career, Eli (John C Reilly) wants out, and hopes this job, would you believe it, will be his last.

Directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) and based on a Booker-shortlisted novel by Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers is constantly balancing the tropes of the Western against its desire to subvert them. This is a one-last-hurrah cowboy film with a warm sense of humour and a number of unexpected quirks, including two delightful performances from Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal. Ahmed is disarmingly gentle as the wide-eyed target Hermann Warm, who hopes to found his own utopian society. He successfully melts the heart of Gyllenhaal’s playfully pompous John Morris, who, at first working with the Sisters brothers to track him down, converts to Warm’s idealistic cause.

A cat-and-mouse thriller soon dissolves into something more unusual, and the film is at its most engaging when all four characters are forced together: a charismatic quartet with polarised world views that begin to rub off on one other. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but just like Hermann Warm The Sisters Brothers wins you over with its infectious charm. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Content from our partners
The cost-of-living crisis is hitting small businesses – Liz Truss must act
How industry is key for net zero
How to ensure net zero brings good growth and green jobs

This article appears in the 03 Apr 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit wreckers