The Sisters brothers - Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) - are gunmen in the employ of the Commodore (Rutger Hauer), but better at violence and killing people than they are at anything more practical when it comes to enforcing his will. Recently they have messed up a mission he sent them on which left all of the people they were meant to investigate dead, as well as a burning barn which incinerated a stable of valuable horses. Recognising they have a talent for something, their boss promptly dispatches them again, this time after detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has managed to find Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) who owes the Commodore money...
The point of this exercise is to meet up with Morris and kill Warm, but as you may have guessed, it doesn't work out that way in this expensive (for a French film) Western drawn from the pages of the cult novel by Patrick DeWitt. Its fans were eager to see what had been made of the source, but it turned out there were not enough interested to pay to see the film, and it was an absolute flop, nowhere near scraping back its budget at the box office. This might have meant it would follow in the book's, er, footsteps (so to speak) and become a cult movie, and there were signs that a small audience were genuinely captivated by the visuals and the relationship between the brothers.
Those two were oddly childlike, but only because they were part of a bygone age and now, as with many a Western made after the nineteen-sixties, the encroaching of the modern world was making its presence felt. So not much new there, and while the innocence of Eli and Charlie contained a certain charm brought by the well-cast stars, it did tend to gloss over the way they had no qualms about murdering their way through their lives, and Eli may have been the more responsible one but that did not prevent Charlie from making big mistakes. They blame their thirst for blood on their father, who Charlie considered a madman, while his sibling excused him as a violent drunk.
Whether the brothers have bad blood coursing through their veins or whether their upbringing left them with no other ability than to wade into dangerous situations gun down a lot of people at once, we can take away their out of place nature no matter where they end up. Though fans of the novel complained too much had been left out (an instance of that may be that Hauer, in one of his final roles, had no dialogue and appeared only fleetingly, despite his prominent billing), the essential journey framework remained as Morris forges a bond with Warm who convinces him his method for finding gold in rivers will make their fortune. Once it becomes apparent to the boss that the Sisters are in no shape to carry out his wishes, he sends a fresh team of even more ruthless, far less loveable hunters.
These hunters will eventually try to kill all four of the men who wander attractive landscapes, mostly filmed in Spain as director Jacques Audiard never set foot in North America for his locations. Therefore it was a very good-looking Western, as they tended to be after Dances with Wolves or the nineties big screen version of Maverick had prompted makers of this genre to get out and about into areas of outstanding natural beauty for their productions, often with a fraction of the budget of that Mel Gibson picture. Not so with The Sisters Brothers, fair enough it was not spending Star Wars or Marvel money, but it had seen a large amount of its funding go to waste when it transpired not many filmgoers were wanting to watch what could have been a comedy had it not been for the harrowing final third verging on horror movie territory until an uncharacteristically soothing conclusion which you may quibble whether they deserved. Somehow, this just did not divert the viewer to the degree they seemed to believe it would, for it was a difficult film to get a handle on, its mood shifting dramatically on a whim. Music by Alexandre Desplat.