Jacques Audiard’s new western starts disorientingly in the dark, with a few shouts before you make out the orange burst of gunfire in the night.
After the close-range killing stops, flaming horses start galloping out of a barn that’s been ignited. The scene announces two things: one, we’re clearly in a wilder West than usual. And two, the French director of Rust and Bone will be putting his own surreal touches on the genre.
Two bumbling brother assassins drive the whole journey: Joaquin Phoenix as blood- and booze-thirsty Charlie, and standout John C. Reilly as the gentler gunslinger at his side. Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed are equally strong as the more civilized men they’re pursuing.
Together, they ride all the quirks in the script based on Canadian author Patrick deWitt’s picaresque tale, taking us deep into the boarding houses and tent canteens of the Gold Rush in 1850s Oregon and California.
Think gory shoot-’em-ups amid historic specificity, wordplay, and character development—for a new, more demanding generation of western fans.