VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - “We’re good at what we do,” Joaquin Phoenix tells his partner-in-crime John C. Reilly after they have killed so many cowboys they have lost count, in the comedy Western “The Sisters Brothers” that premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday.
The reason they are so good, apart from being handy with a pistol, is their complete lack of conscience in taking a man’s life, something Phoenix’s character Charlie Sisters attributes to the genes the brothers inherited from their abusive father.
In the first English-language film by Jacques Audiard, the French director of “Dheepan”, “Rust and Bone” and “A Prophet”, the brothers have a contract to kill a gold prospector being tracked by Jake Gyllenhaal’s John, a more cerebral bounty hunter who does not have what it takes to finish the job himself.
For Reilly, a familiar character actor who rarely gets big lead roles, playing opposite Phoenix was daunting.
“The challenge was working with someone as amazing as Joaquin Phoenix, someone I hold to be the greatest actor working, I think he’s peerless,” Reilly, who is also a producer of the movie, told reporters.
At a key point in the film, his character, Eli, tells Charlie he would like to open a shop when their career as killers is over, something Phoenix’s character mocks, but soon he too is wondering whether there might be more to life and is forced to question his version of masculinity.
“In the 1850s in America we were at this sort of crisis point, similar to the way we are now,” Reilly said.
“We founded the West by murdering all the Indians and destroying all the buffalos, and largely a lawless society was set up,” he told a news conference.
“The strongest prevailed over the weak. But that is not a sustainable plan for the future. That is a self-destructive plan, so I think that’s one of thing the film is looking at ... that makes the film very relevant: Where do we go from here?”
For all the brutality, Audiard said the movie “is about nothing other than love”.
“In ‘The Sisters Brothers’, it’s a story about going home, going back to mother, that home, without the disruptive influence the father had been. So it’s a film full of optimism.”
The movie is one of 21 vying for the Golden Lion that will be awarded at the end of the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 8.
Reporting by Robin Pomeroy; editing by David Evans