To play any brother, by blood or not, of John C. Reilly is an intimidating prospect given just how firmly entrenched Will Ferrell is as Reilly’s on-screen sibling.

“Step Brothers,” their 2008 comedy classic that took the adolescent adult to absurdist extremes, looms large. It did even for Joaquin Phoenix in deciding to play Reilly’s brother in “The Sisters Brothers,” Jacques Audiard’s Western. Phoenix considers “Step Brothers” one of his all-time favorites.

“I knew from that movie. It’s kind of unbelievable how brilliant he is in it,” Phoenix says of Reilly. “I know people think of it as a broad comedy, but there’s a lot of thought that went into that character.”


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The two films, “The Sisters Brothers” and “Step Brothers,” are worlds apart. But they are both centered on the subtle and combustible chemistry of brothers. And for Reilly, both Ferrell and Phoenix are two of the funniest people he’s ever met. “Both,” he says, “have made me pee my pants and fall down laughing.”

“The Sisters Brothers,” the first English-language film for the French filmmaker Audiard (“A Prophet,” ”Deheepan”), is based on Patrick deWitt’s novel of the same name. Phoenix plays the hotheaded and hard-drinking Charlie Sisters, younger brother to the more level-headed and uncertain Eli (Reilly). But they are both feared hired guns, who are dispatched by their boss, the Commodore, to track down a chemist (Riz Ahmed) with a radical idea for gold detection.

The movie, which Annapurna Pictures will open in limited release Friday, is largely a pair of two-handers – one between Phoenix and Reilly (together for the first time), the other between Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal (a reunion from “Nightcrawler”), who plays another pursuer who first locates the sought-after chemist. Both relationships throb with existential quandary and more immediate confrontations with change. Reilly’s Eli, for example, encounters a tooth brush for the first time.

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Photos: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP.