Film Review: The Sisters Brothers

THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Starring: John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Runtime: 121mins
Rated R
Annapurna Pictures

Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers opens up with its  many company credits appearing from the bottom of the screen and appearing upwards. It’s an off-kilter way to read them but absolutely fitting when what follows is a distinctly off-kilter western. Set in 1851 during the US gold rush, Audiard’s film has all the pieces of a traditional western–the horses, the saloons, the canned beans– but through its four strong leads is able to explore so much more.

Ostensibly The Sisters Brothers is about Eli (Reilly) and Charlie (Phoenix) Sisters, a pair of assassins in the old west who are on a hit job on behalf of their wealthy client, the Commodore (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Rutger Hauer). The Commodore is after a gold seeker, Hermann Warm (Ahmed), whose chemical formula reveals gold just by pouring it into the water. A game changer for treasure hunters. Jake Gyllenhaal’s John Morris has been tailing Warm as he makes his way to San Francisco and leaving breadcrumbs for the Sisters to follow. Trouble is Hermann and Morris turn out to be oddly kindred spirits and Morris’s designs on Warm’s death start to wane. While Morris wrestles with his duties to the Sisters and Warm’s idealism, the Sisters cope with their own infighting. Eli is grasping at a world where they are free of needing to take on this dirty work to survive while Charlie can see no other purpose for himself than drinking and killing. The setup is relatively simple but in campfire chats and detours, mines a deep well of complex themes at play in this unforgiving environment. There’s an air of tragedy around all the leads that undercuts the masculine bravado that so often drives gunslingers in westerns.

If there are John C Reilly-philes out there–and really, why wouldn’t there be?–these next couple months will be providing them with a wealth of his screen time. Obviously there’s the big Disney sequel with Ralph Breaks the Internet, the more familiar comedy pairing with Will Ferrell in Holmes and Watson and soon after that the UK will see him in the biopic Stan & Ollie. But I will go out on a limb and say that his work here for Jacques Audiard’s contains his most interesting performance of the bunch.  As the older brother Eli, he is the more physically imposing presence of the two but continually reveals more and more layers of sensitivity as the film goes on. He has a token of a past romance in the form of a shawl he treats with reverence, he’s open to trying these newfangled tooth brushes that are going around. Most of all he carries the weight of having to take care of his damaged younger brother who would likely drink himself into oblivion without Eli nearby—not least of all because of their shared troubled childhood. It’s by far the quietest performance of the quartet but it’s extremely touching. The long and winding road that this small family unit takes is at every point unpredictable and where Audiard ultimately goes was unexpectedly affecting. A beautiful and unique entry into the genre.

Film Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

There are two funny stories attributed to the late producer Dino De Laurentiis, who produced the 1976 remake of “King Kong.” The first is that, every time his film was compared with “Jaws” he would comment on how “nobody cry when the Jaws die”…and that audiences would be weeping at the end of his film. The other is when he first met producer John Peters, who was not only dating Barbra Streisand at the time but had produced her film “A Star Is Born.” Both movies opened on December 17, 1976 and Peters congratulated Dino on “Kong” out grossing “A Star Is Born.” “I’m not surprised,” De Laurentiis is said to have commented. “My monkey can act!”

1973. As the war in Vietnam winds down, a group of soldiers, led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is chosen to accompany a group to a recently discovered island on a trip funded by the United States government. Finding the island surrounded by horrible weather and storms, the group takes a few helicopters out to make the journey from ship to land. On the way they encounter a big problem. A problem named Kong.

Though it seems like the big ape has been around forever, this is only the eighth film to feature him and the first since Peter Jackson’s remake of the original 1931 classic over a decade ago. Some people didn’t like Jackson’s version but I thought it was well made and really made Kong a sympathetic character. The same holds true here. We learn that Kong is really less of a bully and more of a protector of the indigenous people living on Skull Island. There are lots of creatures roaming around, from lizard-like monsters to giant octopi. But nothing is as big of a threat to the big beast than Colonel Packard, who takes Kong’s protective attack on his choppers as a declaration of war.

Though you really don’t go to a movie like this to see the actors, the cast here is quite good, including a rather dashing looking Hiddleston, strong-willed photographer Larson and World War II vet Reilly, who is truly the heart of the film. Reilly’s former soldier has been on the island since the end of World War II and it’s fun to watch him learn about the world ahead of him while he tries to save the one he’s involved in. Ironically the weakest part of the cast is Jackson, who here plays…Samuel L. Jackson. Clever comments, like “bitch, please” roll from his lips as he continues to plan Kong’s demise. And while Kong isn’t all over the film he appears enough to remind you who’s King. The action is intense and the special effects are well done.

What’s next? Stay through the end credits and find out!