Sometimes it’s best to admit that you’re not yet sure what the final message of a story is meant to be. It seems clear for quite a while in co-writer/director Jacques Audiard’s adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s novel, following a pair of sibling assassins—Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix)—in 1851 Oregon as they track inventor Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) on behalf of their wealthy patron to Gold Rush-era California. Jake Gyllenhaal also gets a meaty role as the Sisters’ advance scout, who unexpectedly befriends Warm, as Audiard finds room for both rich performances and sudden violence. Mostly, the narrative evolves into a complex study of emerging modern society, as advances like toothbrushes and the pleasure of a flushing toilet collide with a capitalist greed that becomes figuratively and literally toxic, as people already imagine a utopian alternative. How exactly do those ideas mesh with the backstory of the Sisters’ childhood with an abusive father, and the idyllic domesticity at the conclusion? It might take another look to figure out whether that strange serenity elevates this tale to the status of genuine masterpiece.
Director: Jacques Audiard
Producer: Pascal Caucheteux, Grégoire Sorlat, Michel Merkt, Michael De Luca, Alison Dickey, John Reilly, Megan Ellison, Chelsea Barnard, Sammy Scher, Fernando Victoria de Lecea, Tudor Reu and Delphine Tomson
Cast: John Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rebecca Root, Allison Tolman, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane and Patrice Cossonneau