The Coens' three loser protagonists are escapees from a Mississippi chain gang the sweet if dull Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), the simmering Pete (John Turturro), and the silver-tongued Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney). Everett's bκte noir is his obsession with Dapper Dan hair pomade and its distinctive smell that keeps the bloodhounds on their trail. Nelson and Turturro are great and Clooney is divine even in stripes and stubble, the smiling glint in his eyes keeps ours on him. A wonderful supporting cast including Charles Durning and Holly Hunter add to the fun.
Coen brothers films (Joel directs, Ethan produces, and they both most importantly write) beg for references to other films like the Walter Hill opening, more than a nod to Nashville, and of course glimpses of similarities to the Coens' past work (there is a flood scene reminiscent of the camera-goes-crazy bowling scene in The Big Lebowski and what they did for the landscapes are as glorious as Fargo). But looking for outside influences or inside jokes in the Coens' films is always a bit dicey I am reminded of the time they were in Cannes for either Blood Simple or Barton Fink (they were here with both) and a pair of French journalists were waxing divine over their creativity and mentioned several classic films that obviously had influenced the brothers. Joel and Ethan looked at each other and shrugged and said no, actually they had never thought about those things at all. "We were just making a movie."
And O Brother, Where Art Thou is at its heart a road movie, endearing in both its uniqueness and carefully developed characters, and somehow, in spite of the thumping of heads, near-lynchings, and the squishing of a frog, kindhearted and dear. There will be those who prefer Fargo or even Raising Arizona, but one thing that is sure is that when you enter a Coen brothers film you will be taken to a new and different world; one they have created with detailed care and one we have never quite been to before. To say one must suspend disbelief is one way to look at it, but I prefer to enter the theater thinking "OK, I'm ready, take me somewhere I haven't been before." The Coens have done just that in O Brother with joy and verve. If everyone had half as much fun as they looked like they were having, they've been spoiled for life.
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