Putting both Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly into a character driven western is a recipe for success. Season it with a moody plot-line, immersive western settings. Add a dash of Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, and the result was a fantastic film that I give (90%) on the entertainment meter. The story is set in the 1850’s and follows the Sisters brothers. Assassins on the trail of a prospector with an innovative means for mining gold. But along the way one of these brothers begins to contemplate his place in life which threatens to fracture their bond with one another.
This certainly isn’t a traditional western. It does capture the settings and the time-period with a fantastic result. It pulled me into the old west, and out on the countryside with these characters. It has splashes of violence, but little action. It’s dialogue heavy, and in this instance it’s perfect for the subject-matter. This was a character study of the Sisters brothers. Yet it also captured an unlikely friendship between the characters played by Ahmed and Gyllenhaal that surprisingly did connect to me because of the authenticity of its development. This friendship added another dynamic to invest in, but the relationship between Phoenix and Reilly is the one that shined and took center stage.
Both Phoenix and Reilly were amazing. They captured the chemistry of being brothers and best-friends with realism. We meet them in the beginning of the film and throughout, their characters are continually growing and evolving which was fascinating to see play out. Reilly’s character has visions of a different life and his optimism is compelling to see grow. Phoenix was hardened in his ways and resistant to his brothers enlightenment. But for what reason is unknown until the story progresses. Ahmed and Gyllenhaal were both excellent as well. The brought energy and capability to the roles and also captured an unlikely chemistry with sincerity that surprisingly did appeal to me.
Visually this was a beautifully crafted film. It follows a story loaded with foreboding undertones but the atmosphere is warm with the use of natural lighting. The camerawork around the nighttime fires pulled me into the conversations. The use of muzzle flashes from the gunshots at night effectively built tension and uneasiness which gave the entire mood a very gritty feel. It was continually evolving and it kept me intrigued as to where the story would go. It doesn’t try to over embellish any tropes for theatrical effect. Nothing feels forced, and the result was strong splashes of raw violence and imagery that came across appealingly realistic, and riveting despite the slow-burn of the script.