FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2018 -- If they called Italian directed oaters "Spaghetti Westerns", do you call a cowboy flick directed by a Frenchman an "escargot western?" I had to throw that out there after screening this very engaging western helmed by Jacques Audiard. Audiard is last remembered for "De rouille et d'os" ("Rust and Bone") starring Marion Cotillard.


The film is an adaptation of Patrick Dewitt's novel of the same name that was recipient of Canada's Governor General's Literary Award in 2011. Actor John C Reilly bought the film option and brought Audiard on board to direct. It is Audiard's first English speaking film, though it was filmed primarily in Spain. That is pertinent because his staging of the old west rivals those shot in New Mexico and Arizona.


The story takes place during the California gold rush; more precisely, in 1851. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix are Eli and Charlie Sisters, two assassins for hire based in Oregon. They work for The Commodore (Rutger Hauer) to carry out old west brand of justice. The film opens with them ambushing a home at night and ultimately killing everyone including the person they were supposed to retrieve. Their next assignment is to retrieve a guy whom the Commodore refers to as a thief.

The brothers have a lead, because the Commodore has a scout named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) tailing the guy - Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) - and is sending letters back announcing their location. In time however, Warm befriends Morris on a quest to California for gold. He has developed a way to find gold without the rigors of panning and mining, which intrigues Morris.


During their chase for Warm, the Sisters encounter the characters you'd pretty much expect to find in an oater - prostitutes, barkeeps, dusty shopkeepers, big spiders and everyone else besides Indians. (That would be accurate because just about every California native American was killed by encroaching 49ers.)


When they finally catch up with Morris and warm, the story takes an ironic turn which leaves everyone except Eli with some sort or injury or dead. The end of the film differs greatly from the novel's ending which is somewhat awkward and empty, even if you haven't read the book. Nevertheless, it's not enough to detract greatly from the overall experience.


In his hat, Reilly will remind you of Dan Blocker's Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza, only more violent. All the principle characters are well developed and complex illustrating the European film touch. The articulate nature of every character adds to the humorous nature of the film, but it is never truly lighthearted as much as ironic. Those ironies depict, pretty much what you'd expect from the greedy nature of the gold rush and the old west.


Audiard's take on the old west compares favorably to British director John Maclean's "Slow West" (2015), Danish director Kristian Levring's "Salvation" (2014), and Scott Cooper's "Hostiles" (2017) with a fair depiction of the Old West.


It was good to see veteran bit actresses Carol Kane and Rebecca Root in their usual fill roles, rounding out an already potent cast.


"The Sisters Brothers" is well crafted, deftly staged and wryly humorous with the perfect amount of graphic violence that reminds you of the old Spaghetti westerns; really good for Jacques Audiard's first English Speaking film. Very satisfying for Western fans.   -- GRADE B+ --   GEOFF BURTON