O Brother, where art
Cast: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson,
Michael Badalucco, Charles Durning, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Wayne
Duvall, Chris Thomas King, John McConnell, Tim Nelson, Mia Tate, Christy
Taylor, Musetta Vander (the last three actresses play this film's version
of the Sirens), John Locke
Director: Joel Coen (Fargo, Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker
Proxy, The Big Lebowski, Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple)
Screenwriters: Ethan and Joel Coen (writers of the above films; their
next project is Untitled Coen Brothers Barber Noir Project)
Clooney as Everett
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (12)
Dir: Joel Coen (2000)
The new movie from Joel and Ethan Coen, the sibling producer/director
team who brought us Fargo and The Big Lebowski,
is possibly the least commercial film the brothers have yet made. After
all, it is based on Homers The Odyssey and sports
a title that is as likely to create confusion as it is to arouse interest
from the general movie going public.
For the record, the title is lifted from a 1941 film called Sullivans
Travels in which a movie director finds himself torn between his
studios demands that he make a feelgood musical and his own desire
to make a miserably realistic drama about injustice called, you guessed
it, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Coen brothers themselves have made a movie which is part musical
and part social realism. The story follows three escaped convicts on
the run through Mississippi during the 1930s depression. Led by
Ulysses (see the connection with Ancient Greece?) Everett McGill, (George
Clooney) - who claims to be searching for a treasure horde that he hid
before being arrested - the convicts constantly try to evade re-capture
and meet a host of strange, funny and surprising characters along the
way. However, McGills real reason for escaping custody is to get
back together with his wife, (Holly Hunter), who has convinced everyone
she knows, including her own children, that her husband was knocked
down and killed by a train.
During the course of the movie, Everett and his fugitive companions
manage to record a hit record, disrupt the imminent election of the
new State Governor and save a man who is about to be lynched by the
Klu Klux Klan. If you think the plot sounds more than a bit odd then
youd be right. In fact, the idea is so completely off-the-wall
that it shouldnt really work. Fortunately, however, due to a set
of fine performances, (particularly from John Turturro and Tim Blake
Nelson as Everetts hapless side-kicks), and a very witty script,
the movie works surprisingly well.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? somehow manages to be refreshingly
original and enjoyably old-fashioned at the same time. The movie has
the look and feel of vintage Hollywood, (many people have commented
that Clooney with a moustache is a dead ringer for Clark Gable) but
includes some bizarre and inventive twists that wouldnt feel out
of place in a surreal modern movie like Being John Malkovich.
The movies box office trump card is its star, George Clooney.
Here he is much better served than he was in this summers damp
squid The Perfect Storm. Nevertheless, no matter how dirty
and scruffy he is made to look and no matter how strongly he pronounces
his southern drawl, he still looks like he should be playing the dishy
doctor in a TV hospital drama.
In order to appreciate this film fully and pick up on the oh so
clever mythological references, I suspect you will need to have
read The Odyssey from cover-to-cover. Unfortunately, that
rules out about 98% of the population. This reviewer did at least figure
out that John Goodman wearing an eye-patch was supposed to be the Cyclops.
The unfamiliar story structure that the Coens have borrowed from
the ancient Greeks explains why this film takes some getting used to.
The plot is episodic, moving from one little adventure to the next without
much to connect each one except the characters themselves. Nevertheless,
once youve settled into the rhythm of the film it proves to be
a richly rewarding experience. It may not be particularly profound,
but it is certainly entertaining, and thats what movies are meant
to be anyway, arent they?
© Chris Lean 10.2000