The Preston Sturges-style, Homer-inspired prison-break comedy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is amusing but not up to the Coen brothers' standard of absurdist inspiration.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
Fans of the Coen Brothers they made "Raising Arizona," "Barton Fink," "Fargo," and "The Big Lebowski," among others are going to eat up their latest film, a Depression-era musical comedy/drama loosely based on Homer's "Odyssey." Others may be less appreciative, or downright flummoxed.
Like those films before it, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" showcases the Coens' absurdist humor, their amazing ear for dialogue and, mostly, their unrivaled inventiveness. This is not a film you can easily categorize or compartmentalize. It's unpredictable, it's unorthodox, it's occasionally quite funny (but, oddly, not as funny as it should be or, perhaps, thinks it is).
|O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?|
|Directed by: Joel Coen.|
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen.
Cast: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King, Charles Durning, Del Pentecost, Michael Badalucco, J.R. Horne, Brian Reddy, Wayne Duvall, Ed Gale, Ray McKinnon, Daniel von Bargen.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
And that, my friend, is the
overriding problem with the film: it's all a bit too much. You come away with the feeling that the boys have gotten a little full of themselves. Brilliant has always been a tough act to
follow, I suppose.
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (the title comes from the Preston Sturges film "Sullivan's Travels" and, not surprisingly, the Coens' latest feels like a Sturges comedy for much of the time) follows the trials and tribulations of three chain-gang escapees in rural Mississippi, circa 1937. Our heroes are played by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson. Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) is the smooth-talking one; he's obsessed with his hair and getting to $1.2 million's worth of buried bank notes before the state troopers catch him, or the dam bursts. Clooney is really the pivotal character in the film, since Turturro and Nelson just act dumb and vacant around him, heightening
Clooney's Dapper Dan appeal.
The film, like Homer's lengthy poem, is episodic, with the boys' journey interrupted by various colorful characters. There's a black guitar player they
meet at a crossroads who's just sold his soul to the devil (he wasn't using it) and with whom, as The Soggy Bottom Boys, the foursome cut a hit record. There's a one-eyed bible salesman (played by Coen regular John Goodman); a gangster, Babyface Nelson, who prefers to go by George; and a wife (Holly Hunter) with seven kids in tow. In addition, there are three seductive sirens washing clothes in the river; a governor (Charles Durning) whose campaign is being done in by a midget; and the Ku Klux Klan. On top of all this, cinematographer Roger Deakins makes this the yellowest film you have ever seen!
Nobody has ever accused the Coens of going mainstream, and they're certainly not going to start now. However, like that traveling bluegrass guitarist Ulysses, Pete, and Delmar encounter along the way, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" seems to be missing just one thing: a soul.
|JANUARY 20, 2001|
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Reader comments on O Brother, Where Art Thou?:
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