Directed by critically acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard best known for 2010’s A Prophet and 2015’s Dheepan, The Sisters Brothers is a Western that is remarkable for its terrific acting performances and its unique and fascinating story that breaks the mold of a typical Western genre film. The plot revolves around two brothers Eli Sisters, played by Academy Award-nominated actor John C. Riley who is best known for his comedic roles alongside Will Ferrell, and Charlie Sisters, played by three-time Academy Award-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix, who are both hired assassins who work for the powerful Commodore from Oregon City, Oregon. Set in the 1850s at the height of the Gold Rush in California and throughout the American Far West, the brothers are sent on a mission to track down a prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm, played by Emmy Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed who is best known for his role in the 2016’s HBO miniseries The Night Of, who has developed a scientific technique to discover gold. As the Sisters brothers embark on a perilous journey through the wild West of Oregon and California, another hired gunslinger named John Morris, played by Academy Award-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal, has tracked down and captured Warm after which they decide to become partners in gold prospecting. Eventually, Eli and Charlie catch up to both Warm and Morris, and all four men unexpectedly join forces but are hampered by rather unusual tragedies. Throughout the film, the protagonists meet a wide variety of true characters who either want to kill them or are killed by them, all set against dramatic Western landscapes and lawless frontier towns stereotypical of traditional Western cinema. However, the movie diverges from the genre by approaching the storyline as a slow burn drama that has moments of dark comedy and explores the complicated yet loving relationship between the two brothers. Yes, there are good old Western shootouts but a majority of the plot is a much more personal narrative than what most audience members will expect. Overall, I found it to be a well-polished film with elements of a Western that surprisingly evolves into something much more than just a violent picture set in the American West, primarily as a result of its truly excellent performances from the highly regarded lead actors and its unique vision from a well-respected foreign filmmaker.
Directed by Scott Cooper who is best known for 2009’s Crazy Heart and 2015’s Black Mass, Hostiles is a beautifully shot Western with terrific acting performances from the main protagonists and provides a more nuanced view of the violent struggles between Native Americans and the American government. Set in 1892 at the height of the Indian Wars, the story follows U.S. Army Captain Joseph Blocker, played by Oscar winner Christian Bale, who is ordered to take the recently imprisoned Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk, played by the wonderful Cherokee actor Wes Studi, and his family back to their home in Montana. Blocker who is notorious for his brutal tactics against Native Americans is at first very hesitant to follow orders to help an Indian who was responsible for the death of several of his comrades in the past. Accompanied by a group of other American soldiers, the group are unexpectedly joined by Rosalie Quaid, terrifically played by Rosamund Pike, whose family was just brutally murdered by a group of Comanche in New Mexico. Along the perilous journey, the party must grapple with the violence and injustices perpetrated by both white Americans and Native Americans. Both sides have lost many lives, and the usually hardline Captain Blocker eventually comes to terms with the fact that the United States’ vicious and sustained campaign against Native Americans may have caused many of the problems between the two fighting groups. The challenges shared by everyone on the expedition helps create bonds between Blocker and his soldiers, Yellow Hawk and his family, and Quaid despite their justifiably grave misgivings about each other. Although there are several violent episodes, most of the film is almost a meditative experience for the characters as they cross spectacular Western scenery on horseback and come to understand one another. Overall, I found it to be a well-crafted movie with some of the most beautiful cinematography and gives a very important message about reconciliation between enemies during a very violent point in American history.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua who is best known for 2001’s Training Day, The Magnificent Seven is a fairly well done Western that fits in the unique category of a remake of a remake. It is a modern update to the 1960 classic Western of the same name starring Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner and directed by John Sturges who was inspired by the Japanese masterpiece Seven Samurai directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1954. Like the originals, the plot revolves around a posse of seven men recruited to save a village from a band of ruthless criminals. In this particular case, the leader of the group is played by Denzel Washington who is enlisted to ward off a gang paid by a mining magnate deviously portrayed by Peter Skarsgaard. The first part of the movie follows Washington’s character as he encounters each of the six other man as they are asked to join the fight. As is the case with the original The Magnificent Seven, the characters are played by Hollywood A-listers, including Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Each character is given a brief introductory scene, and the actors are set up rather typecasted, especially Chris Pratt who is used throughout the film as comic relief. Outside of their one-liners, the characters are never fully developed, which is understandable due to the size of the cast and the relatively short runtime. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by the second half of the film in which the scene is set for an epic battle, which, in turn, shifts into more of an action or war movie. The final action sequence is extremely well-crafted, with terrific cinematography and filled with countless bullets and explosions. There are even some unexpected twists to the conventional Hollywood ending. Also, in line with contemporary action flicks, the body count is ridiculously large: undoubtedly, more than even both of its predecessors combined. Overall, I found the film to be entertaining and full of enough action scenes to leave most moviegoers satisfied. However, as a movie buff, I came away from the theater thinking whether it was really necessary to remake something that has already been made twice terrifically, films that have stood the test of time as true cinematic classics.