WHAT’S IT ABOUT? The second novel of Canadian author, Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers is a raucous, strange, blood-soaked, and often jarringly hilarious western that resounds with faint echoes of Charles Dickens, Cormac McCarthy, Samuel Beckett, Henry Fielding, Thomas Pynchon, and Laurence Stern. Built on a curiously formal narration, and highly picaresque in tone, the novel follows brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, two borderline-psychopathic hired guns dispatched by a mysterious Mr. Big known only as The Commodore to murder gold prospector and inventor, Hermann Kermit Warm. After travelling from Oregon to San Francisco – meeting a cackling rogue’s gallery of killers, oddballs, criminals, and the occasional appropriately influential and decent figure along the way – The Sisters Brothers discover that Hermann is, per his surname, a highly likeable and engaging man, which makes their task even harder, as does the crisis of conscience being experienced by the overweight, deeply sensitive, and cripplingly self-conscious Eli, whose taste for killing is far less entrenched than that of his more vicious and unfeeling older brother, who sneeringly views his younger sibling as little more than a bellyaching hindrance. Upon discovering that the strangely irresistible Hermann Warm has developed a chemical formula capable of revealing the location of gold hidden in riverbeds, the money-hungry Sisters Brothers decide to join his prospecting operation rather than murder him, leading to a bizarre but oddly appropriate denouement involving more death and murder, and a truly haunting fate for Eli and Charlie Sisters.
WHY WOULD IT MAKE A GOOD MOVIE? Boldly anachronistic and fiercely original in tone, The Sisters Brothers upturns the classic tropes of the western genre, and rearranges them as a wild but strangely sad comedy that would truly sing on the big screen. The novel’s depiction of a San Francisco lolling in the grip of Gold Rush fever would make for a stunning cinematic tableau, while its gloriously whacked out and terrifying characters would match its madness and malevolence at every shocking and hilarious turn.
WHO SHOULD DIRECT IT? Masters at mixing violence and comedy – and the creators of one of the best westerns of the last forty years with the 2010 masterpiece, True Grit – Joel and Ethan Coen would be the perfect directors to translate the topsy-turvy tone of The Sisters Brothers for the big screen. Their power in Hollywood would bring in the required mid-to-high level budget to create 1850s San Francisco, while their facility for dialogue and black humour would perfectly service Patrick DeWitt’s dense, snaky vision of The Old West.
WHO SHOULD BE IN IT? As the tubby, whining, immature, loopily philosophical, but explosively violent killer-who-should-never-have-been-a-killer, Eli Sisters, Jack Black could flex both his comic and all-too-rarely-seen dramatic muscles to dazzling effect in what could be a signature role, while Woody Harrelson would cut an amusing but menacing figure as his much nastier and frequently annoyed older brother, Charlie. As the nicest guy in San Francisco, John C. Reilly would be perfect as the unlucky and tragically hapless gold prospecting inventor, Hermann Kermit Warm, while eye-catching cameos could go to western legend, Clint Eastwood (as the frighteningly imperious Commodore); Bill Murray (as a dentist who introduces Eli to teeth brushing); and Kate Winslet (as an accountant at a whorehouse who teaches Eli the joys of intimate conversation).