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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

“Life ain't easy for a boy named Sue.”—Johnny Cash

The Sisters Brothers (2018) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Oregon, 1851. Two years after gold was discovered in California, eight years before Oregon becomes a state. Some night­time callers arrive at an isolated farm­house. “HEY, THIS IS THE SISTERS BROTHERS. HAND LOU OVER AND THE REST OF YOU CAN LIVE.” Gun­fire erupts. Several shots later (“F__k, it's not him”) and they enter the house (“Take it.”) Then it's on to “The barn.” Amidst a pile of bodies, some stam­peding horses, and a burning building, one brother remarks to the other, “We f___ed that up real good.” Their solution: “For the next job we need to have a lead man.”

Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) the older brother carries the shawl of a past love interest and speculates on their poor boss, “The Commodore is victimized.” His younger brother Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), now the lead man, recalls their roots, “Our father was stark raving mad and we got his blood in our veins.” Their next assignment is to meet up with a “scout” who will finger a man who has some­thing the Commodore wants and torture it out of him. They find a message from the scout in Myrtle Creek, dated May 15: “The gold rush has made the detecting job much easier.” Just follow the gold. Another message awaits them at Wolf Creek, dated May 17: “Gentlemen, I have found him.” He will detain him until they arrive. They take off cross country to save time.

An unfortunate delay allows their target, a scientific prospector, to persuade the scout to join him on his quest. As they all head south the Sisters brothers have to defend them­selves from mind­less confrontation (“It's about reputation”), from the big city enchantment of S.F. (“This place is Babylon”), and from the lusty lure of gold. An impatient “Commodore” (Rutger Hauer) has also sent other men out after them.


This whole story revolves around a single proverb, (Prov. 26:27) “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.” What goes around comes around. When they push their horses over the mountains to save time, Eli's middling horse gets mauled by a grizzly bear and later will succumb to its injury and fall back down the hill. Eli buys a tooth­brush and learns how to use it. While he's sleeping with his mouth open a venomous spider drops in and causes him some pain. These two back-to-back incidents will alert the student of the proverbs to pay attention to this one that's normally used to address the back­firing of social engineering used to create the so-called level playing field.

The scientific prospector is all into engineering, social and otherwise. Normally one profits in the gold prospecting business one of two ways:
  1. Luck
  2. Hard work

This man has come up with a third way: a chemist formula, a divining substance. “You pour it in the river, it lights up all the gold, and you pick it up.” But first, you've got to dam the river. Then the formula is “very toxic.” You have to grease your skin and get in and out real quick with the gold. We expect some­one will fall into the holding pond they made.

His second project will be to create a utopian democratic society in Texas. As in the Norwegian folk song Oleanna, “the cows all like to milk them­selves and the hens lay eggs ten times a day.” I bet. We've seen what happens to his river that likes to milk itself of gold. We're not so sure about that fecund hen.

In “The Sisters Brothers,” the two bros eventually return to their home­stead to visit their mother Mrs. Sisters (Carol Kane). They were kind of like rolling stones she sent out, or two eggs instead of ten, but then she got back two men who hadn't been social engineered. Social engineering these eggs, the children the prospector values, would be like rolling them out and getting them back undeveloped. The movie ends before we see what­ever happens with this scheme, but taking account of the year, 1851 leading up to the Civil War, and Texas that will be seeing an influx of blacks, we can more or less visualize the desegregation of the schools after Brown v. Board of Education to make a more ideal democracy. Negro children will be these eggs rolled out by bus to the white schools, eggs that will roll on back to their mother hen still not properly educated.

pool partyIn Sonia Maasik & Jack Solomon, Signs of Life in the U.S.A., Stuart Buck “explains how the well-intentioned policies of desegregation eventually led to … a reversal of intention” (Maasik 637).

because desegregation undermined one of the traditional centers of the black community: the school. In the segregated schools, black children had consistently seen other blacks succeeding in the academic worlds. The authority figures and role models—that is, the teachers and principals—were virtually always black. And the best students in black schools were black as well. ¶This ended with desegregation. (Maasik 639)

As John McWhorter points out, the “demise of segregation” helped “pave the way for the 'acting white' charge. With the closing of the black schools after desegregation orders, black students began going to school with white ones in larger numbers than ever before, which meant that whites were available for black students to model them­selves against” (McWhorter 64–65).

In white schools if a black kid started getting good grades, his black peers would accuse him of “acting white.” With such a disincentive to achieve, that egg would roll back home on the bus undereducated.

Production Values

This Western, “” (2018) was written by Jacques Audiard & Thomas Bidegain and directed by Jacques Audiard. It was based on Patrick DeWitt's novel, The Sisters Brothers. It stars John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Reilly really outdid himself here. He and Phoenix worked extremely well together in buddy roles but as brothers. There were out­standing performances all around.

MPAA rated it R for violence including disturbing images, language, and some sexual content. The disturbing images really were. The out­door scenes were shot in Spain and France, with sets in Romania, but it sure looked like old Oregon to me, where I live. There was a superb score from Alexandre Desplat and visually striking photography of gorgeous Western vistas shot by Benoit Debie. The dialogue sounded intelligent, especially considering the era.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I especially liked the historical realism, living here in Oregon and appreciating its history. The idealistic community was to be set up in another state, but they can have it. I suppose this is a thinking man's Western, but we're not taxed very deeply. It's not for kids, though. I'd say it was pretty good and expanded the themes of the traditional Western beyond conflicts with bad guys and Indians. More of a coming of age in the end.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Buck, Stuart. Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation. (© 2010 Yale University.) Yale University Press. Excerpts quoted in Maasik.

Maasik, Sonia and Jack Solomon. Signs of Life in the U.S.A.. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012. Print.

McWhorter, John. Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America. New York: Gotham, 2006. As quoted in Maasik.