Many Europeans flounder with their first English-language feature, but France’s Jacques Audiard took Venice’s Silver Lion for his, winning Best Director at this year’s festival. Based on the book by Canadian novelist Patrick Dewitt, The Sisters Brothers stars John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as Eli and Charlie Sisters, two bounty hunters in mid-19th century America. Reilly, who also produced the film, dropped by the Deadline studio to discuss it.
The main attraction, he explained, was the novel’s worldview. “The book has this kind of startling originality for the time period,” he said, “and it wasn’t just an arbitrary take on things. I found it so startling because it was actually rooted in the details of the 1850s—like, what would it be like to never have used a toothbrush before, what would it be like to have to hand load each bullet in a gun now. What does that do to your psyche as you’re preparing to commit violence?”
“It was a fresh take on a Western,” he continued, “except all it did was pay attention to the actual historical record. And, you know, I think that’s something that’s become obscured over the years of all these Western films—actually what it was really like. It was this crazy multicultural wild time there in the west. It wasn’t just a bunch of white guys being macho, subduing the Indians. It was something much more complicated than that.”
Reilly brought with him co-star Riz Ahmed, who plays the improbably named Hermann Kermit Warm, a prospector being pursued by Charlie and Eli. “Hermann Kermit Warm is an idealist and also an amateur scientist,” said Ahmed, “and the Sisters brothers had been told that he’s also a thief and that he’s stolen from their boss, the Commodore. But in fact he’s just got to a very dangerous dream, a dangerously lucrative dream, and they’ve actually been sent to hunt him down and steal this invention that he has.”
As the Sisters brothers close in on Warm, the film takes an unusual turn, ending on a surprisingly warm note for a story about two hired killers. “I hope people come away feeling like even the worst of us has the ability to transform,” commented Reilly. “As bad as things can be, human beings have an endless possibility for transformation and change.”
See the video above for more from Reilly and Ahmed.