An elegant western that beautifully captures the cruelty, grit and grime of the old west in much the way that Unforgiven did almost thirty years ago. Like that film it has an authentic texture about the weariness of life and the desire to escape it. And without taking it too far it also has four sublime central performances.

Adapted from a book by Patrick DeWitt (which I haven’t read) by Thomas Bidegain and director Jaques Audiard it concerns brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix respectively) as killers who are out to do a job for The Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Their task to find and kill Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) who has been branded a thief. Also on Warm’s trail is the bookish private detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has an arrangement with the Brothers.

Meeting and befriending Warm, Morris still has every intention of completing his part of the bargain until Warm explains why The Commodore wants him. Warm has a change of heart frees him and they set off together to prospect for gold.
Meantime the brothers on their trail have to endure a bear attack, a spider bite that gets infected and Charlie’s drunkenness which strains the relationship. Finding out about Morris’ betrayal they follow the pair only to be captured by Warm and Morris who then have to team up to fight off a gang sent to kill the Sisters.

Between the four they dispose of the gang and coming to a truce and learn why The Commodore is so keen to get his hands on Warm.

It’s a fairly routine story but what lifts this way up above many others is the splendour of Benȏit Debie’s cinematography, that interlaces with a gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat. Which in turn enhances the recreation of the period; detailed with an authenticity that to my eyes looked nigh on perfect. Audiard has pulled all these elements together while still allowing space for the four main actors to turn in brilliant performances.

Reilly as the more responsible brother (carer?) with this, and his performance in Stan and Ollie, is quickly putting Holmes and Watson behind him. A resigned man that having had to deal with a dreadful situation early in his life just want to get out but has an obligation towards his sibling. Phoenix on the other hand is more excitable to say the least and while seemingly oblivious deep knows what the score is.

They contrast with the clearly more educated Warm and Morris who in other hands may have come over as academic snobs. However Ahmed and Gyllenhaal play these subtly creating warmer if not totally sympathetic characters, as in their own way they are as determined and ruthless as the Sisters.

It’s by no means a comedy though there’s a rugged humour which dovetails with the sporadic violence that leaves you in no doubt what the Sisters brothers are. But the joy of this film is in the long wordy conversations eloquently revealing past and future fears, ambitions and disappointments. They are complex and ranging and do ask something of the viewer which one would hope in the end would find rewarding.