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« Strong Contenders from Iceland, Denmark, and Lebanon | Main | Months of Meryl: Lions for Lambs (2007) »
Friday
Sep212018

And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

At several key moments in Jacques Audiard's hymnal The Sisters Brothers time stands still and we watch a curtain gently shift to and fro in the breeze, mid-day sunlight coloring in its folds, making shade where none just was. Take a moment to smell the roses, the film whispers, because hey you never know if and or when you might get shot right in your face... 

Yes, this is not the first time someone's set such violence and poetry against one another - Western Stories have been loving that bittersweet concoction since Ye Olde Time began, humming on front porches as the insects sing. But Audiard and his filmmaking co-conspirators take the juxtaposition seriously and a sad loveliness ensues, spreading an unexpected warmth through this tale of one generation poisoning the next, poisoning the next, onward. A green fog spreads, taking fish and fowl, but they hold each other close when its cold, guldernit.

Every opportunity that Audiard gets he swerves his storytelling a degree off-center, tilting this would-be same-old-story of assassins making ruthless haste and chase across the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1800s, until the whole trail's suddenly a brand new trail-shaped thing. Far from traveling down beaten boot and saddle worn streets we're forging new territory, looking at some of the same sights sure, but from a new askew angle. That rocky passage ahead turned upside down, shaken out, a bit of Oregonian Escher about it, perspective speaking. Perhaps this comes from plunking a Frenchman down and having him point his camera at our olden time tales?

Anyway things we've seen a million times before - a lonely outlaw taking a sad prostitute up to his room for some hanky-panky, for example - become miniature revelations, dioramas of intricate other-worldliness, under Audiard & Co's atypical touch. The fresh paint spackled city of San Francisco thrumming with gold in its veins like it's never been seen. And with a cast so typically keen on being a bit off-center everybody's enjoying re-writing the maps here, inserting frilly sea-monsters where none have been seen before. John C. Reilly is especially smart, stepping off his beat in the best of ways and shading one of his cellophane man goofballs with some backbone and a busted moral compass, spinning in place. 

All four of our leading men - meaning also Gyllenhaal, Phoenix, and Ahmed, oh my - are doing fine work. The movie asks a lot of our empathies early on and then slowly unravels, ragged thread by thread, just why it has asked so much of us - the cost of living in this world can be brutal on every bit, and survival requires sacrifices from places you didn't even understand you owned five seconds ago. These four little lambs are matted in meat and gore, wobbly legs knocking at the knees, not a speck of white about them. But they stand, they move, and they dream their weird little dreams while watching the curtains blow, and how beautiful just that can be, lil' doggy.

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Reader Comments (6)

Oscar chances?

September 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

cal roth -- I'm the worst person on the site to answer that question but I think this movie's probably going to slip thru the cracks, Oscar wise. Maybe JCR can rally but I can't think of a real clip he'd have - it's all played fairly subtle. There are showier movies that will suck the air out of the room would be my guess.

September 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I like Audiard's more intimate dramas, like Rust and Bone and The Beat My Heart Skipped, but I've hated Dheepan. And now comes a western? Such an unpredictable career.

September 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I liked what your review was doing: giving a sense of the emotional atmosphere of the film. I admire Audiard's Read My Lips, A Prophet, and especially The Beat That My Heart Skipped, but I had no desire to see this film until I read this review.

September 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

One of the strangest, most elegant yet surprising films I've seen in a long time.

September 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJes V.

Previous films by Audiard are wonderful, but this one had all the ingredients for being a total flop (first English-language film of a revered auteur and, moreover, a western!). However, all the reviews I have read so far are great. I am really looking forward to seeing it, even if I hope that Audiard goes back to contemporary France for his next film.

September 24, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterbonobo

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