Why Filmmakers Avoid Making Westerns, According To Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal in The Sisters Brothers

The Western, as a genre, isn't dead, but it sure has grown comfortable on Hollywood's shelf, collecting dust until a filmmaker works up the courage to attempt another chapter in the storied realm. We have seen a few classic Westerns as of late (the Coen brothers' True Grit and Kevin Costner's Open Range leap to mind), while some filmmakers have opted to apply the tools of a Western to a modern story -- see Hell or High Water... like, immediately. Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers is a vintage Western, though unlike one we've ever seen (and we'll explain why in a moment), but when CinemaBlend had the opportunity to interview the cast, we asked co-star Jake Gyllenhaal why directors don't tackle Westerns anymore, and we loved his thoughtful answer. He told us:

I think the genre has been worked and reworked and done over and over and over again. There have been classic movies that have been made in that space, and they are of a time... There are so many classic films. I think it's probably intimidating for filmmakers to make a movie, another Western. And also, it defined American cinema for a period of time. So it takes, I think, someone like Jacques [Audiard], who is from another culture, and who was not really a fan of Westerns in the first place, to tell a story like this. And there's a very modern quality to this story, unlike most Westerns. Except for Young Guns.

Bonus points for any shout out to the Emilio Estevez and Kiefer Sutherland-led Young Guns. Well played, Gyllenhaal. But he also brings up excellent points about filmmakers who are attempting to tell a new story in this timeless genre. You have to start off by finding something wholly original to say, and The Sisters Brothers finds that angle in its four main characters.

The movie -- which we managed to see at the Toronto International Film Festival -- balances two storylines that eventually intersect. In one, a man of science (Riz Ahmed) partners with an intelligent bounty hunter (Jake Gyllenhaal) on an experimental scientific invention that could aid the men as they pan for gold. In the second story, the Sisters brothers, Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), try to apprehend the two men from the first story and bring them back to their shared employer.

These four characters are men who we don't normally see in a Western. They are men of big ideas, defined more by intellect than of masculinity. And yet, they fit snugly into the boundaries of a Western, as is evidenced by the movie's trailer. Before you visit that, here's Jake Gyllenhaal talking classic Westerns on the modern film landscape:

Jacques Audiard's lyrical and captivating The Sisters Brothers rolls out in limited release starting on Friday, Sept. 21, before expanding to more theaters in October. And as an added bonus, we have this clever clip about living in 1851, so give it a spin because it will help set the mood for The Sisters Brothers!

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.