A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Sisters Brothers is an incredibly violent Western based on a novel by Patrick DeWitt. Many characters are shot and killed -- death doesn't seem to carry much weight here -- and there's plenty of gore and blood. Animals are killed, characters get nasty chemical burns, a character dies by suicide, and limbs are severed. Language is also very strong, with multiple uses of "f--k" and more. A main character abuses alcohol, gets heavily drunk in more than one scene, and suffers terrible hangovers (including vomiting and passing out). Social drinking and cigar/cigarette smoking are also shown. Expect to see brief images of sex with saloon prostitutes, as well as kissing, flirting, and the suggestion of a man masturbating under a blanket. This movie -- which stars John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix -- has some fine acting and picturesque scenery, and mature Western fans are likely to enjoy it, but it may be a little off-putting to genre newcomers.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In THE SISTERS BROTHERS, it's 1851, and cool-headed Eli (John C. Reilly) and reckless Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters are hired killers who generally work in Oregon for a powerful man called the Commodore. Their latest job involves a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed). Another of the Commodore's agents -- the elegant, educated John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) -- has been charged with finding and befriending Warm; then the Sisters Brothers will meet them to do the dirty work. But Morris discovers what it is that the Commodore really wants: a special chemical formula for finding gold. So Morris decides to abandon the Commodore and join Warm in business, but they make many enemies in the process. The Sisters Brothers save the pair from attackers, and the four become friends. But the chemical gold mining has its drawbacks, and more tragedy awaits.
Is it any good?
This enjoyable revisionist Western based on Patrick DeWitt's novel focuses on male relationships. But it's also somewhat tonally uneven, swinging from scenes of brutal violence to scenes that could be described as "cuddly." French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone, Dheepan) makes his English-language debut with an assured touch; the movie's lyrical dialogue flows like music. Audiard seems to specialize in stories about the way violence wriggles its way into relationships, and The Sisters Brothers fits that mold perfectly. Reilly and Phoenix's characters have a simple but genuine history and an appealing conversational shorthand. Their performances are terrific.
The same goes for Ahmed and Gyllenhaal (who previously worked well together in Nightcrawler), playing educated men who prize simple courtesies and kindnesses. (Gyllenhaal in particular speaks with a studied elocution that sounds poetic.) When the four characters are all together, hanging around camp and waiting for a chance to look for gold, they have a genuine, delightful camaraderie. Audiard uses the film's Western landscapes effectively, but the movie's violence can seem detached, and the killings don't mean much (except for the untimely death of a horse, which is more gruesome than it had to be). And if not for the ingenious casting of the loopy, lovable Carol Kane (who has about five minutes of screen time), the ending wouldn't have worked quite so well.
Talk to your kids about ...
How are women portrayed in the movie? Are any shown in positions of power? Why do you think prostitutes are so prominent in stories of the Old West?
What is the appeal of the Western genre? How does it speak to us today? What is a "revisionist" Western? Does this one qualify?
How are the brothers affected by an abusive childhood? Do they overcome it? How do their choices differ?
- In theaters: September 21, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: February 5, 2019
- Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly
- Director: Jacques Audiard
- Studio: Annapurna Pictures
- Genre: Western
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence including disturbing images, language, and some sexual content
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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