Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Sisters Brothers

Go To

The Sisters Brothers is a 2018 dark comedy western directed by Jacques Audiard based on the novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt. It is Audiard's first English-language film.

Two assassin brothers named Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) track a man (Riz Ahmed) in California during the Gold Rush.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The Sisters's father was an abusive drunk. Charlie eventually murdered him for it.
  • The Alcoholic: The Sisters' father was a really mean one. Charlie is almost always drunk or on his way to get drunk, too, while also commenting few times how he's of his father's blood and thus obliged to act in such way. It's his coping mechanism after mudering said father for all the abuse he caused.
  • Anti-Climax: Toward the end of the movie, the brothers are set on killing their former employer to stay alive. When they get ready to make their final stand, though, the Commodore has already died of natural causes, and there are no more killers coming after them. With no other goal in mind, they go home to see their mother, and the movie ends there.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Gold is one of the least reactive elements out there, so whatever is supposed to be in the formula would sooner melt it rather than make it fluorescent.
  • Assassin Outclassin':
    • There must have been some serious communication problem, because Mayfield's goons should know better after few failed attempts.
    • Eli single-handedly kills a hit team sent after them. He then proceeds to mop up every single posse send after them, while heading toward Commodore's headquarters to kill him and taking care for still recovering Charlie.
  • Automaton Horses: Darkly averted; Eli's horse is injured by a bear early in the trip, and because the brothers can't stop to get it properly treated, the wound gets infected and the horse dies.
  • Badass Boast: Charlie when Eli tells him that their way of life will eventually end with someone outmatching them and killing them.
    Charlie: You're forgetting something. We are the Sisters brothers. We're good at what we do.
  • Bantering Baddie Buddies: The film is about two brothers that are assassins and argue all the time over minor stuff.
  • Batman Cold Open: The movie opens with the Brothers wrapping up a job, only for a barn fire to mess up their plans, kill their horses, and force them to walk home for their next assignment.
  • Bears Are Bad News: At one point the brothers are attacked in their camp by an aggressive bear. Charlie manages to kill it, but not before it scores a nasty wound on Eli's horse, which quickly gets infected.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: The Sisters Brothers are silly guys that argue about everything. They’re also ruthless and scarily competent killers that just can't be stopped, no matter the odds.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The titular brothers are sociopathic assassins for hire with dozens of notches under their belts, but most of the people who try to kill them (including their employer) are either even worse or were killed by the brothers in self-defense. No one in the story is really a good person except for Herman (and John Morris).
  • The Big Guy: Eli is this to his younger, dumber and more violent brother.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The brothers get to retire from their violent lifestyle and reconcile with their mother, while the Commodore dies alone and miserable. But Herman and Morris are dead, Charlie loses his hand, and the gold-finding chemical is lost forever.
  • Black Comedy: Tons, but most notably when Charlie and Eli try to break the news to Mayfield's residents that they've just murdered and robbed the town's mayor after she tried to kill them: "Good news, everybody! You can finally change the name of your fucking town!"
  • Boring Return Journey: Played for dark laughs; partway into the return journey, the hitmen stop attacking and the rest of the trip is quiet. When the brothers finally get home, it turns out they took so long that the Commodore died of unrelated causes.
  • Break the Haughty: Charlie's an extremely aggressive, stubborn jerk. Losing his right arm and thus ability to fight seems to calm him down a great deal.
  • Brick Joke: Early on Eli comments on how stupid Rex is and how unreliable guardian Sanchez would make and partnership with them would lead to Charlie's downfall. Eventually, they're both sent after the Sisters brothers, only for Eli to easily kill Rex on his own, along with two companions, as well as avoiding Sanchez during a chase scene -it's unrevealed whether he killed him afterwards or the man simply gave up- showing that he is leagues ahead of anyone that could partner Charlie.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Charlie on his good days... but on bad days, he jumps right to Ax-Crazy.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Eli to Charlie.
  • Combat Pragmatist: The Brothers; in the book when confronted by a large group of Mayfield's thugs in the stables rather than get into a messy gunfight the Brothers make the thugs agree to have a duel and then draw and shoot them all down on two of the three count.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The brothers appear to be a duo of bumbling fools, with one of them being drunk most of the time. People who take that appearance at face value and decide to attack Charlie and/or Eli usually don't live for another minute.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: When the Commodore's Mooks attack Eli and Charlie in the town, Charlie tries to reach for a gun and shoot, only to realize that he no longer has an arm.
  • Darkened Building Shootout: The film opens with one of these as the Sisters Brothers make a raid on a house.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played for Laughs; it's 1851, so toothbrushes are treated like some fancy, newfangled technology. Eli buys one and takes most of the film to figure out how to properly use it.
  • Driven to Suicide: After being horribly scalded (likely blinded and getting severe nerve damage) by the gold chemical, Morris asks Charlie for help and kills himself with his revolver rather than suffer through anymore.
  • Egopolis: Downplayed; the town of Mayfield has been named after its most prominent citizen and apparent leader, but otherwise it’s your average frontier town.
  • Enemy Mine: The Brothers are forced to team up with Morris and Herman to fight off Mayfield's henchmen, which leads into a more permanent alliance.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Commodore remains nameless, with everyone using his (supposed) rank instead.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Morris decides not to hand Herman over to the Commodore after seeing he's just an innocent guy trying to help people.
  • Faking the Dead: Briefly discussed. Eli punches the Commodore's corpse in its coffin to make sure he’s actually dead and not just faking it.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": Eli and Charlie are the only people at the Commodore's funeral, and Eli punches the deceased to make sure he's really dead.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Charlie is quite foolish, frequently making situations worse and getting in over his head, forcing Eli to (often lethally) bail him out.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Eli is the melancholic, Charlie is the choleric, Warm is the sanguine and Morris is the phlegmatic.
  • Genre Savvy: Eli is much more perceptive than Charlie, noting how suspicious it is that a dangerous man like the Commodore keeps "getting robbed", as well as quickly seeing through Mayfield's lies.
  • Gentle Giant: Despite being much taller than most people, Eli is a warm and kind person who treats almost everyone with respect, to the point that a prostitute in Mayfield is moved to tears by his gentleness. Too bad he's having to play bodyguard to his Ax-Crazy little brother.
  • Gold Fever: It's 1851. The California Gold Rush is at full swing, with thousands of people roaming around in seach of gold. And Warm has a way to make that search so much easier... Ultimately the gold craze is what leads to Charlie getting maimed, while Warm and Morris die horrible deaths by chemical burns. Meanwhile, the Commodore keeps sending men after anyone that could either provide him information about gold or cause him to lose said information.
  • Guns Akimbo: Eli wields two pistols in a shootout with the Commodore's men late in the film.
  • Gypsy Curse: The Brothers fear one of these in the book when after spending the night in a creepy old woman's house they wake to find her gone and a talisman hanging over the doorway. Both men refuse to pass under it out of fear of what it'll do to them and instead leave by a back window. (At least Charlie does, as Eli is too fat to climb through and has to wait until Charlie returns with an axe to cut him out.)
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Charlie's Fatal Flaw.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Warm and Morris become this during their prospecting ventures, although some fans might debate the heterosexual part.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: When Eli starts poking holes in the Commodore's story and pointing out that they shouldn’t trust him, Charlie defends their employer and seems to honestly believe he's an okay guy.
  • Ironic Echo: Warm is afraid the Sisters brothers might torture him, and he tells Morris that they're gonna cut off his fingers, and burn his feet, and gouge out his eyes. Ironically, it's his chemical compound that makes him unable to move his fingers, burns his feet and during his final words to Eli, we understand that he's unable to see. And this is partly because of Charlie.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Mayfield tries to kill Eli and Charlie, but it still ends up feeling pretty morally questionable when they brutally murder and rob her in retaliation.
  • Klingon Promotion: He doesn't get a chance to actually do it, but Charlie eventually confesses that he's been considering killing the Commodore and taking his place.
  • Life Will Kill You: The Commodore dies from natural causes before the brothers even manage to reach him.
  • Manly Tears: Charlie sheds some after he loses his hand and gets Herman and Morris killed by dropping the gold formula.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: While set in southern Oregon and California, the film was made in Europe, predominately in rural Romania. For the most part it's pretty convincing, but at some point Californian beaches suspiciously look like these in South-West France.
  • Mugging the Monster: One wonders if Mayfield and the other hitmen that try to kill the brothers realized just who exactly they were provoking.
  • Never My Fault: Charlie tries to blame his violent lifestyle on the fact that his father was "stark raving mad", and that he and Eli "have his foul blood running through our veins". Eli wearily states that their father wasn't crazy in the slightest; he was just a drunken Jerkass. The crazed violence is all on Charlie.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: All the promotion material significantly play up the comedy angle of the story by collecting almost all the comedic moments into it and reshuffling certain scenes into sequences, despite them being unconnected in-story. The film is a pretty hard-hitting drama with a lot of somber elements, particularly the entire final act.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We don't see how the Brothers kill Mayfield, just the gory aftermath, which arguably just makes it scarier.
  • One Last Job: Eli wants to retire and decides that the hunt for Herman should be this. Surprisingly, he and Charlie actually do get to retire peacefully at the end.
  • Private Eye Monologue: Morris writes his journals in a manner similar to this, providing the film's narration. After he dies, Eli takes it over.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Charlie when Mayfield refuses, despite the threat of torture, to open the safe. What exactly he does to her is a case of Nothing Is Scarier, but the very next shot is of her dead body with blood all around it and the brothers looting the safe.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Downplayed as the two brothers have big issues, but Eli is still the blue one when compared to Charlie's red.
  • Sibling Team: These brothers have been living and working together for their whole life. They are extremely competent at their job, especially Eli, to the point they both well know there is nobody to be even remotely considered a good replacement should they ever part their ways.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: It's implied a few times the brothers are unknown to almost comedic proportions, but Charlie never stops boasting how great and infamous they are. However, unlike typical examples, they really are great killers for hire, it's that almost nobody heard about them.
  • Spiders Are Scary: A big spider crawls on Eli's body then face while he is sleeping. Then he swallows it. Only to wake up in the morning swollen and sick.
  • Start of Darkness: Eli describes his and Charlie's as being the moment Charlie killed their abusive father in self defense. Eli sadly remarks that he wishes he had prevented it, as his brother has never been the same since.
  • Thicker Than Water:
    • The only reason why Eli keeps up with Charlie, his violent lifestyle and job he utterly hates is because he's his older brother.
    • Vast majority of people that are after the brothers are the relatives of people they've killed in the past. Eli even discuss this with Warm.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Charlie is not equipped to handle dangerous chemicals, and pays the price for it.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Charlie makes very poor decisions, especially when drunk. Which is most of the time. And even when sober, he always acts first, but thinks never.
  • Tragic Mistake: Everything goes to hell when Charlie, in a rush to get more gold, accidentally spills the undiluted glow formula in the water, causing himself, Herman, and Morris to all suffer horrible chemical burns.
  • The Voiceless: The Commodore has no dialogue, during the brief times he's seen from a distance.
  • You Have Failed Me: When the brothers decide to help Morris and Herman instead of bringing them to the Commodore, the latter responds by sending a small army of hitmen to try and kill them.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Eli bitterly notes that many of the people trying to kill the Sisters brothers are the family and friends of the numerous mooks that Charlie's gotten into lethal fights with.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Herman, the chemist/prospector the brothers are hunting, believes that the money he intends to make with his creation can be used to found an utopian society.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The Brothers would. In fact, they'd do much worse than that to Miss Mayfield.