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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 The Sisters Brothers


Directed by Jacques Audiard (2018)

  “Well, that was a most unsatisfactory film,” said a voice behind me as we left the cinema.

What could they have meant? A film might be rotten or brilliant, but why unsatisfactory?It suggests something left unresolved.

The Sisters Brothers is at once brutally violent and soothingly gentle, and while there is a resolution of this conundrum, nailed down in the final scene with flags and a fanfare, you can’t believe it. It’s a magical confection and could almost be one of Eli Sisters’ dreams as he lays dying somewhere.

Our introduction to Eli (John C Reilly) and his younger, yet dominant, sibling Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), in opening moments lit by gunfire and moon-glowed smoke, carries all the contradictions that are played out over the next couple of hours.

Loudly announcing their arrival, a ruthless reputation going before them, they shoot-up a ranch so bad they’ve lost count of how many people they’ve wasted. Six, or seven, was it?

Inadvertently they’ve also set fire to the barn and Eli risks his life in a failed attempt to save the horses.Eli has a soft spot for horses, and he has a soft spot for an old flame, too, nuzzling a red shawl she’s given him as a memento while he masturbates.

Charlie has no visible soft spots, apart from for the liquor, and he dismisses Eli’s doubts about their murderous career in the employ of a mysterious character called The Commandant.

Their next job for him is the assassination of a chap called Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) for reasons unknown, and they never ask. Warm is being tracked by a thoughtful, gentlemanly bounty hunter named plain John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Turns out Warm has invented a formula for speedily revealing the gold in a river without all the fuss of panning for it. Yet he’s not in it for himself. He wants to use the money to establish an ideal community in Texas, a sort or commune where everyone is equal.

Befriending Warm while waiting for the brothers to turn up and do the unpleasant bit, Morris is sceptical about the formula but, well, warms to his philosophy and after a bit of a scrap the pair team up on the project.

Discovering this, a few days behind, the brothers must find them to fulfil their mission for the Commandant – or do they really have to?

This is a Western in transition between barbarity and civilisation, wittily symbolised by Eli’s enlightenment at the discovery of the toothbrush. As he scrubs clumsily away at the muck of decades, he might be a killer but at least his breath smells fresh.

April 18, 2019

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