(2018) Western (Annapurna) Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Carol Kane, Rutger Hauer, Rebecca Root, Allison Tolman, Patrice Cossonneau, Zack Abbott, David Gassman, Philip Rosch, Creed Bratton, Lenuta Bala, Jochen Hägele, Eric Colvin, Ian Reddington, Aldo Maland, Theo Exarchopoulos, Sean Duggan, Lexie Benbow-Hart. Directed by Jacques Audiard
You wouldn’t think that Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly would make a great pair of brothers who happen to be bloodthirsty bounty hunters in the Old West, but they do in this gritty, sweaty Western that is so realistic you cn almost smell the smoke from their Colts and the stink from their sweat-soaked shirts.
Eli (Reilly) Sisters and his brother Charlie (Phoenix) are a couple of hired killers who work for The Commodore (Hauer) in the pre-Civil War Oregon Territory. Basically, Charlie is the true gunslinger; Eli is a competent killer but not as natural born to it as Charlie is. Eli is weary of the life and hopes to give it up soon, maybe open a dry goods store. Charlie thinks he’s crazy.
Their latest assignment is to catch up with chemist Hermann Kermit Warm (Ahmed) and get a formula from him that the Commodore claims was stolen from him. They will be aided by Detective John Morris (Gyllenhaal) who will track Warm down and hold onto him until the brothers can get there.
Morris, an educated man, is smart enough to see that the better possibilities for a future rest with Warm and not the Commodore, so he betrays the Brothers and takes off with Warm, hoping to make enough money to open up a Utopian society in the Dallas area. Naturally, the Brothers don’t take too kindly to this, particularly the hot-headed Charlie.
It is almost de rigeur for a Western to have beautiful cinematography and that is no less the case here, with Northern and Western Spain subbing for the American West. The pace is slower than a lame horse, though, and those who like their Westerns action-packed will be disappointed, although when there are gunfights, they are artfully staged, sometimes taking place in pitch darkness where all you can see is the occasional muzzle flash.
The chemistry between Reilly and Phoenix is what saves the day here. Of course, Reilly has made a career out of being the second banana in team-up movies (although he makes a compelling lead when he gets the opportunity) and he has always known how best to play off of his partner’s strengths. He does so here, giving Phoenix a chance to practice for his role as the Joker which he would undertake just a year after making this one.
As Westerns go, this isn’t bad but the languid pacing and overreliance on some really awful events happening to the brothers, ranging from bear mauling to spier bites to chemical burns to amputations. There’s also a penalty for unnecessary vomit; we get that Charlie’s a drunk without it. I suppose though, when you are going to make a gritty, realistic Western it’s going to go along with all the excretions and secretions a body can muster.
REASONS TO SEE: Beautifully acted and beautifully shot.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overly long and ponderously paced.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, some of it disturbing. There is also some profanity as well as some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first English-language Western directed by a French director. It is also the first English-language film overall by Audiard.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews: Metacritic: 78/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pale Rider
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Bohemian Rhapsody