John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix join forces as the title characters, guns for hire, contracted to find a prospector (Riz Ahmed) with a scientific trick for finding gold in rivers.
Reilly plays Eli, the nicer of the two brothers, who is starting to consider life after riding and killing. Phoenix plays Charlie, perfectly content to be a bounty hunter of sorts, as long as the mission includes hookers and lots of booze.
When another man (Jake Gyllenhaal) intercepts the prospector with intent of turning him over to the brothers, he has a change of heart, and the hunt takes on a new dimension. Reilly and Phoenix are great together, creating a palpable fraternal bond.
This is a dark period western speckled with some funny moments, but don’t be tricked by the commercials for the film. It’s a mostly dark affair, acted well by all involved. Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) has made a moving, absorbing, appropriately nasty western that gives the impression everybody on screen smells really bad.
Phoenix, having a banner year, turns out to be perfectly cast as a gunslinger, something I wouldn’t have believed going in. He and Reilly give this film a ton of soul, and it doesn’t hurt having the likes of Gyllenhaal and Ahmed in their supporting roles. They are all equally good.
"The Sister Brothers" is now playing in local theaters.