THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018)

September 27, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. It was a good news – bad news kind of day for westerns. First, it’s announced that Mel Gibson will direct a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 classic THE WILD BUNCH. Talk about an undesired and unnecessary project! Fortunately, the movie gods understood this gut-punch and as a peace offering, delivered this near-masterpiece that doesn’t so much re-invent the Western, but rather provides a tonal and stylistic twist to the genre.

This is the first English language project from writer/director Jacques Audiard, who has previously delivered such powerful and well-crafted films as A PROPHET (2009), RUST AND BONE (2012), and DHEEPAN (2015). Based on the Patrick DeWitt novel, with a screenplay from Mr. Audiard and his frequent collaborator Thomas Bidegain, this latest is a very unusual film that teeters on satire at times, but is simply too bleak to be a comedy – although it’s too darn funny to be an outright drama.

A terrific opening sequence in 1851 Oregon features a nighttime shootout that sets the stage both visually and tonally for what we will experience for the next couple of hours. It’s beautifully shot and there is some misdirection on what exactly the Sisters brothers are made of. John C. Reilly is absolutely wonderful as Eli Sisters, the soulful forward-thinking one who also has a dash of goofiness to him. His younger brother Charlie Sisters, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is the slightly unhinged one who frequently follows in his hated father’s footsteps by drinking heavily. Charlie is alternatingly quietly menacing and drunkenly menacing. The two brothers are hired assassins, and while Eli dreams of a peaceful retirement, Charlie can’t imagine not doing what they do.

The brothers have been contracted by ‘The Commodore’, a rarely seen power broker played in brief glimpses by the great Rutger Hauer. They are to meet up with advance scout John Morris (played by Jake Gyllenhaal with a quasi-British accent) and kill Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who has supposedly stolen from The Commodore. Of course, there is more to the story. Warm has actually developed a chemical compound that allows for the easy gathering of gold from waterways – remember this is the height of the Gold Rush.

This is kind of a road trip film … only it’s on a horse trail from Oregon to San Francisco, and it’s kind of a buddy film … only it’s two brothers. Along the way, bonds are forged and broken, and paths are crossed with a kind-hearted saloon gal (Allison Tolman), a greedy town lord (trans actor Rebecca Root), and the brothers’ mother played by the always interesting Carol Kane. There is also a cringe-inducing run-in with a spider, an unfortunate end for a favorite horse, and the hilarious first use of a toothbrush. There is also a Dallas joke that drew quite the laughter from my Dallas audience.

It’s such an unusual film, and it’s presented with a non-traditional pace and rhythm. The moments of laughter surround a core with a dramatic story of destiny, the meaning of life, dreams and visions, and the greed of man. All of this is set to yet another terrific score from Alexandre Desplat and the visually striking photography of Benoit Debie. Director Audiard has delivered a bleak comedy or a comical drama, and he’s done so with more than a fair share of violence. Whether you consider yourself a fan of westerns or not, this one deserves a look.

watch the trailer:

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TERRI

July 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Indie films are at a disadvantage on many fronts, not the least of which is budget. That usually limits the indie scene to personal, poignant stories of relationships and self-discovery. Quirky, yet believable characters are often the difference between ho-hum and worth-seeing. Writer Patrick Dewitt and Director Azazel Jacobs definitely provide some curious characters of interest in this Official Selection of Sundance Film Festival.

Jacob Wysocki portrays Terri, an overweight outcast who is often humiliated and bullied at high school. Terri seems to have given up on ever fitting in. The proof is in the pajamas that he has begun wearing to class every day. But as usual with “troubled” teens, there is more to the story. We see his home life which consists of constant care for his Uncle James, who is apparently suffering from dementia. We get no backstory on the missing parents, but it’s clear that Terri’s responsibility at home outweigh his concerns for a missing social life at school.

 Enter Assistant Principal, Mr. Fitgerald. Played by John C Reilly, Mr. Fitzgerald takes a special interest in the ‘monsters and misfits’. The reason is pretty obvious … he was one himself. His goal, rather his life’s calling, is to encourage these kids to understand that life gets better and that NO ONE really has it figured out. We are just doing the best we can.  Even this well-intentioned man struggles to maintain his relationship with his wife.

 Terri’s world collides with a couple other students. Chad (Bridger Sadina) is so angry at the world that he pulls his hair right out from his scalp – and is quick with a cutting remark, though he clearly just seeks attention and love. Heather (Olivia Crociacchia) is saved from expulsion after a very generous move by Terri. Her world of popularity comes crashing down, but Terri is the presence that gets her through. Watching these characters interact with Mr. Fitzgerald emphasizes how much we all need someone to care … someone to believe in us.

 The film moves at a pace realistic to life. That means it is very slow compared to most movies. The characters are allowed to develop, as are most of the scenes. Jacob Wysocki’s performance can be compared to Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. They are large youngsters who don’t use their size to comedic effect. Instead, they both display humanity and real emotions in a less-than-perfect world.  Uncle James is played very well by Creed Bratton (“The Office”).  If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Bratton, he is not only a fine actor, but also was a member of the late 60’s/early 70’s band The Grass Roots.  He continues to compose music to this day.

Certainly not a movie for everyone, but if you enjoy intimate stories about people just trying to get through life … no special effects, explosions or asinine punchlines … then Terri is worth a look.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy attention to detail afforded by indie film story-telling OR you are intrigued by the similarities to Precious (only not as harsh or intense)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you believe summer time movies should be light-hearted and filled with crashes, booms and robots/superheroes

Watch the trailer: