Why Isn't This A Film? - The Sisters Brothers

What have we got here then?

The Sisters Brothers is a 2011 novel from Canadian author Patrick deWitt. It was nominated for the 2011 Booker prize and was voted the Number One book of 2011 by Amazon Canada.

OK fine. What’s it about?

Set in Oregon in 1851, the titular brothers, Eli and Charlie, are hired guns for a mysterious figure known only as The Commodore. Their latest assignment sees them sent to California on the trail of the equally mysterious Hermann Kermit Warm.

Interesting. Is there something more?

1851, for those in the know, was around the time of the California gold rush, adding intrigue into exactly why The Commodore wants prospector Warm and ensuring the Sisters aren't the only two on the road South.

Save me the trouble then – is it any good?

deWitt's book is episodic and elegiac, told in extremely short chapter bursts of, regularly, a couple of pages or so. As the brothers travel, the character interactions they have are consistently intriguing and entertaining, from an early brush with a witch to the point where they finally catch up with Warm. The Sisters Brothers flies by, never getting bogged down in weighty description, or keeping us for too long in one place.


As per this Guardian review and a quote on the book's Wikipedia page, the novel is almost too brief. It does feel as though deWitt is more interested in writing something appealing to film-makers than bothering to flesh out his world on the page. There's next to no description or scene setting and, on more than one occasion, it feels a little sparse. Still, that doesn't prevent it from being an entertaining read.

What are its chances of being made as a film?

Pretty excellent. Not only does deWitt leave the look and feel of the narrative completely at a visionary film-maker's door (this could be comic or serious, depending on preference) but the rights have already been sold to John C. Reilly's company. Of course, that doesn't guarantee this will appear any day soon, but the signs look good.

But who'd star in it?

Reilly apparently wants to play Eli himself, which in a way is a good fit. Eli is the more sympathetic of the killers and is described as physically larger than his more clinical brother. He's also the narrator - it's arguably his journey - and the main source of the comedy situations. Charlie then needs to be older, meaner and thinner. Kevin Costner would surely have a sniff around any decent Western role. Peter Stormare could be a good bet, if a very long one. Warm is absolutely tailor-made for John Malkovich. The Commodore would be quite effective as someone recognisably 'Western', in a near-cameo role. Clint Eastwood or Daniel Day-Lewis, perhaps.

Will it be any good?

There's a big question over tone here and much also depends on who eventually takes control of it. As you can find in several locations on the web, The Coen Brothers would really suit this sort of darkly comic fable, but with True Grit already done and dusted, them returning to a Western of similar style seems unlikely.

Anything else I should know about it?

It's currently hovering around £2 on Amazon if you've got a Kindle, and takes next to no time to read. Well worth a purchase.

Why Isn't This A Film? is a regular Film Intel feature which takes a book (you know... one of those things with pages in, doesn't project on to a screen, makes small rustling noises), comic, video game or graphic novel and assesses its adaptation prospects. One day this feature will get something right and we will win something major and valuable. Possibly.


  1. The Coen Bros would do a great job of giving it their special feel while being true to the book.

  2. John C. Reilly is about 25 years too old to play Eli/

  3. An amazing quick read, and I didn't want this adventure of sorts to end. This book is a true journey through the wild west with many intricate characters and bizarre happenings along the way, all equaling the perfect read.