Can ‘the French Scorsese’ Pull Off a Western?

Jacques Audiard is one of France’s greatest living filmmakers. With “The Sisters Brothers,” he takes on the most American genre.


Comments: 40

  1. I saw this movie at TIFF and I found it surprisingly enjoyable given a strong dislike for westerns. The source material is also really good. During the audience Q&A, Audiard said he considered making a western no different in approach than an European period piece. The American mythology of a western had no influence over him. It made this a better Western for me.

  2. Read My Lips and A Prophet make my list of the 10 most amazing movies ever. I watch them both year after year and just marvel. Just saying.

  3. No thanks. Same plot line and setting and - everything else - of more than 200-300 movies made over the last century. Wouldn't spend a dime to see any of those 4 actors.

  4. Would recommend seeing the film before you make that judgment. Not every film is suited to every viewer, but this one communicates a distinct vision of a time and place no living person has been to. The leads are excellent.

  5. @Margot I would pay more than a dime to see John C Reilly in something again. He's been MIA for too long.

  6. You are to movie critiques what Trump is to the presidency.

  7. YOUR article reveals too much of the story.
    I also object to your headline comparing a great filmmaker to another great filmmaker. They are not similar.

    I've seen all of Audiard's films that have been released in the US and I'm a fan.
    I saw "The Sisters Brothers" a few days ago and loved it.
    It's terrific - great script, excellent unpredictable story, wonderful costumes, cinematography, sound track and locations.

  8. A wonderful book, but a lousy film. The two brothers look and sound like corporate dudes in cowboy clothes and the symbiosis of their different personalities in never captured. Their quest is episodic, missing the dream-like quality so artfully achieved in the novel. The portrayal of San Francisco, so visually Boschian in the book, consists of a set from any Hollywood western. Warm, the object of their hunt, is an improbable Ghandi-like figure prone to existential lecturing. Apparently the film's appeal, for those not carping about its mismatch with the book, is the depiction of two unloved losers conflating their murderous sprees with job commitment, until growing doubts by one and physical incapacity by the other drive them back into the arms of their mother. Only a French director and a clued-out audience could applaud that.

  9. The movie does not do the book justice. It was a glossed over Western with very little vested acting. It seemed like the actors were just "playing the part" well enough, but the book really shined. I will admit to falling in love with the scenery, though. If it was filmed in Oregon, I'm so glad I live here now and will be looking forward to exploring this gorgeous state.

  10. @D.
    The article says it was filmed in Tabernas, the only desert in Europe.

  11. @D. It was filmed in Spain and in Romania.

  12. I'm not a big fan of Westerns but I like Audiard, Phoenix & Gyllenhaal so I decided to go see it. I loved it!

  13. I find the title and subtitle to this article a little strange - why *wouldn't* a Frenchman be able to pull off a western? Two of most recognizable westerns were made by an Italian man - "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" were both made by Sergio Leone and serve as major touchstones within the western genre. If anything, American western tropes have been directly influenced by European cinema.

  14. @Dave

    Once Upon A Time In The West is not only the greatest of all westerns, it is where a director first realized that Henry Fonda made a wonderful villain.

  15. All of the people below are non-Americans (except Polanski),
    and they have DEFINITELY made great films, although I have not seem a few of them. There are also a lot of foreign directors directing American TV programs.

    I don't think American Directors have exclusive rights to Westerns, nor Foreign Directors have exclusivity when films are made in their respective countries. In fact, sometimes
    these 2 groups make excellent and better films than in their respective countries.

    Werner Herzog. Director | Fitzcarraldo. ...
    Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Producer | The Revenant. ...
    Alfonso Cuarón. Writer | Gravity. ...
    Denis Villeneuve. Director | Blade Runner 2049. ...
    Roman Polanski. Director | Chinatown. ...
    Michael Haneke. Writer | Caché ...
    Guillermo del Toro. Writer | El laberinto del fauno. ...
    Alejandro Amenábar. Writer | The Others.
    Sergio Leone Director I The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

  16. @Majortrout: Polanski is a Pole and only a few of the others (Leone obviously) have made Westerns. In fact very few great westerns have been made by directors who were born abroad.

  17. Westerns are usually about heroes, reluctant or otherwise, showdowns and violence. Sisters Brothers is a character driven film. Yes, there are showdowns, violence and heroes but...The wonderful little details about a scarf, toothbrushes and a bother's love make it more than a typical western. Somewhere along the line our 2 bad guys, hired killers, become our heroes. And we care about them and their fate. And that makes for a wonderful twist on the western. Maybe it takes an outsider to see the twists - Leone and now Audiard.

  18. Every director wants to direct a western. Very few get the chance.

  19. Ang Lee, from Taiwan, got an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain, so I imagine that Mr. Audiard can also pull off a successful Western.

  20. "God created men and Sam Colt made them equal."

    We've all seen the good man appeal for help
    when the bad men are on the way (High Noon) Now we'll see things from the other side? I will watch this Audiard movie, "The Sisters Brothers."

  21. . . .'“The Sisters Brothers” both hews to and subverts the conventions of a traditional western allegory, evoking what Audiard calls “the violence of the Founding Fathers” as manifested in the chaotic establishment and subsequent hard-won civilization of an extraordinarily brutal new country. It is a rendering in miniature of the price of progress"' . . .

    There is no intrinsic logic to those statements, if we want to know Jacques Audiard's point of view. I am confused. Firstly, the author, Thomas Chatterton Williams, quotes what he says Audiard calls "the violence of the Founding Fathers". Okay. But Williams buries this: -- 'hard-won civilization'* of an extraordinarily brutal new country' -- muddies the point about the 'violence of the Founding Fathers'! If it's a 'brutal new country' on what scale of 'bad' stands the 'violence of the Founding Fathers'? And is that how Audiard sees the country, or Williams? 'It [the film] is a rendering in miniature of the price of progress' Williams concludes. Who paid the price? Presumably Audiard's reference to violent founding fathers had something to do with war against the native inhabitants. But did they, Mr. Williams, make up part of the 'brutal new country' or did they experience specific founding fathers' violence? Where is Audiard in this sweep up of destiny?

    *[Cannot forget Gandhi's comment when he was asked what he thought of Western civilisation. "I think it would be a good idea," he said."]

  22. @Virginia MacFadyen I agree that the details in this sentence are awful, but you get the idea--if you're skimming. Which, obviously, you're not.

  23. Une Prophete is simply amazing. De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone) is also great. Happy to give a shot to any film made by the director of those two.

  24. @PR: Dheepan was best of all but this one is abysmal.

  25. Based on "Rust and Bone" alone, I can't wait to see this movie!

  26. I want to see this movie, but it's prospects may be handicapped by its title. The best movie western titles convey the subject matter effectively and are things like "High Noon", "True Grit", "Tombstone", "Hang 'em High" or "Unforgiven". Sorry, but "The Sisters Brothers" sounds a bit effete for a western movie title.

  27. @mpound

    So the title of a film turns you off.
    Don't see it.
    Perhaps Audiard should have consulted social media to see what an appropriate title would be.
    Mon dieu!

  28. Nice article--but a curious asid: Why did they translate to ‘‘A Self-Made Hero’’ from ‘‘Un Héros Très Discret’’?

  29. I'd like to pose a question here.

    What organization is more pro gun, NRA or Hollywood?
    My answer is Hollywood by a long shot.
    And please spare me that it's a metaphor, or a teaching moment.
    Hollywood lives by the gun, murder, molestation, and war. Start counting how many major Hollywood hits lack these devices.
    Liberals love violence when their God - Hollywood - presents it. Wake up

  30. @zigful26: That's a really simplistic assertion. Liberals recognize that violence exists in the world and we're up for seeing movies that examine it in a serious fashion. We're NOT up for movies that glorify it, fetishize it or imply that it's the only way to express one's hatred or bitterness. The NRA wants to fill Americans' hands with actual guns, and could care less whether those hands belong to criminals or terrorists. Hollywood, even at its most cynical, presents fictitious heroes and fictitious villains employing fictitious weapons to create fictitious havoc.

  31. I *loved* the book and can't wait to see the adaptation!!!

  32. Kudos to Alison Dickey (John C. Reilly’s wife) for recognizing the genius of the Audiard film “ Read My Lips” with Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel back in 2001. In films like “Rust and Bone” with Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, and “A Prophet” with Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup, Audiard has always shown a genius for getting extraordinary performances from his actors, whatever the theme of the film. For a superb actor like Joaquin Phoenix to say that at 43 - “I didn’t realize I could learn so much from a director” is high praise indeed.

  33. Can the French Scorsese pull off a Western? No, he can't and he didn't. Sisters Brothers is another revisionist genre-film whose jokiness and idiosyncrasies can't compensate for its unformed characterizations and empty displays of loquaciousness. Those who reject the classicism and conventions of genre should feel obligated to replace them with something equally compelling and meaningful: even Tarantino, with his "Hateful Eight," came up with something stronger than this.

  34. "Audiard had delivered an impassioned off-the-cuff riff about the pressing need for gender equality throughout the industry. “When I saw that the competition had 20 films and only one directed by a woman, "

    Okay, that tells me all I need to know about this fellow and the content of his work. I'll pass.

  35. "...the story is violent, brutal and hypermasculine. '...a woman... would never have bothered to make it.'” Actually, in terms of gender subversion, the film is ultimately feminist. (There's no way of supporting that point without massive spoilers, though.)

  36. Horses? Guns? Bad men, we might like? Good men we come to dislike? Horses? Women in dresses, impossible dresses for the chores they are doing? Natives? Exploited as necessary characters, but not fleshed out? Dogs, scruffy dogs? Dirty little children? Shots of vistas, suddenly narrowed to a grim,dusty and sweaty close-up? Horses? Wooden "sidewalks", walked on by men in boots with jangly spurs? Creaking leather holsters, vests and wide brimmed hats? Saloons with wary barkeeps, and nefarious characters at tables playing cards, or oogling the comfort ladies? Cheerful comfort ladies? A funeral director, who is also the town doctor and postal worker? A shifty eyed banker? A widow with a ranch or a mine? Horses?

    Sure, combine them all, maybe have a decent plot, maybe decent actors (Phoenix bores me, sorry) andyou have a decent western.

    But so what? What is the point of these westerns? What do they do for us, the culture? Where do they take us? What do they tell us about who we are now? Even then?

    And why cant a foreign director make a decent Western? We have the Spaghetti westerns, some of which put the Grrr, in gritty. Gave us real glimpses of the raw life on the western frontiers, IF you were looking close enough. And not just there for the gun fights and revenge stories.

    Another western, I ask again, so? Whats the fresh insight, on a played out American cliche?

    I'm a fan of the genre, seen 100's of them...but also seen the cliches, tiresome plots take us no where new.

  37. An excellent article and a phenomenal director. Another explosive film by Audiard is the 2005 'The Beat That My Heart Skipped': truly one of his best!

  38. Possibly a small point, but the phrase “one of France’s greatest living filmmakers” sounds hyperbolic, especially considering the many many fine French directors, including the notably accomplished Claire Denis, Celine Sciamma, Rebecca Zlotowski, and Catherine Breillat.

  39. LOVED this movie. Doesn't go where you think it will. Marketed as a comedy, it is very funny but has great moments of suspense, drama and surprisingly emotional resonance. The production design and cinematography are exceptional and I was particularly enamored of the innovative score by the great Alexandre Desplat.

  40. Headlines that ask a question deserve an answer: No