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film review

Joaquin Phoenix, left, stars as Charlie Sisters and John C. Reilly stars as Eli Sisters in The Sisters Brothers.Shanna Besson/Annapurna Pictures

The Sisters Brothers

Directed by Jacques Audiard

Written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain

Starring John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix

Classification 14A/ 121 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

The French director Jacques Audiard (Dheepan, Rust and Bone, A Prophet) has never made a film that played by the traditional rules of structure, theme or tone – so why start now?

The Sisters Brothers, adapted from Canadian Patrick deWitt’s award-winning novel, is a standard western, except when it’s a revisionist tale. It’s a my-brother’s-keeper melodrama, except when it’s a violent comedy. It’s a tale of There Will Be Blood-levels of ambition and greed, except when it’s a high-ho American frontier adventure.

This may all be read as a warning, but like the rest of Audiard’s filmography, The Sisters Brothers eventually gels in its inherent messiness.

John C. Reilly gives a career-best performance as the sensitive Eli, who along with his drunk and cruel brother Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix, taking more of a backseat than usual) ply their trade as assassins in 1850s gold-crazy America.

Initially, the siblings are targeting a timid prospector (Riz Ahmed) who may or may not be guilty of stealing from their boss, but slowly the story transforms into something more introspective and compassionate (while also providing ample interplay for Ahmed and his former Nightcrawler co-star Jake Gyllenhaal).

The film’s ending may not be a shocker in the dictionary-definition sense, but you will still never see it coming.

The Sisters Brothers opens Oct. 5 in Toronto and Vancouver, and Oct. 12 across Canada