|"O Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
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Joel and Ethan Coen have become one of America's finest filmmaking combos, and for good reason. Looking at their portfolio, you see a common theme of understanding the cadences, rhythms and twangs of American speech, and seeing the cracked side of American life. In films such as "Fargo," "Raising Arizona," "The Hudsucker Proxy" and "Blood Simple," the characters are basically good but not particularly moral -- there's a criminal side to the heroes (with the exception of the Frances McDormand police chief in "Fargo") that makes them charming, flawed but still in a realm to which the audience can relate.
Loosely (make that very loosely) based on Homer's "Odyssey," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" begins with convict Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) escaping a Mississippi prison farm with his dim cohorts Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). They are off to find the loot hidden by McGill from an armored car job before the valley it resides in is flooded by a WPA project. They almost immediately run into a blind seer (Wayne Duvall) who predicts that they will find great treasure, albeit not the one they are seeking.
Along the way, they run into a variety of characters, from a one-eyed Bible salesman (John Goodman), to a corrupt Mississippi governor running for re-election (Charles Durning) to a blind radio station owner (Steven Root) who records the three convicts singing "Man of Constant Sorrow" which, unbeknownst to the three Soggy Bottom Boys (so dubbed because Delmar and Pete elect to be baptized, to the amusement of McGill) has become a huge hit.
Heck, you even get to meet the manic/depressive Baby Face Nelson (Michael Badalucco). They also run into three larcenous sirens and McGill's wife, who is preparing to marry a man she considers "bona fide," which McGill is not. When McGill objects to his wife remarrying and takes issue with her new suitor, he gets soundly thrashed and tossed out of a Woolworth's, to his humiliation. Indeed, the three Soggy Bottom Boys do find a treasure beyond price, although they don't realize it at the time.
The Coens capture the period perfectly, and give all the characters enough eccentricities to make them interesting, without making them overbearing. Clooney, in particular -- with his obsession about his hair -- commands attention. He is not "bona fide," but that's mostly bad luck. We root for him throughout and for his two dim-witted sidekicks.
Refreshingly original, "O Brother" remains all Coen and those who love their movies, as I do, will love this one. Da Queen and I were laughing till our faces were beet red, particularly during an early train sequence, and at the final performance of the Soggy Bottom Boys near the end of the film. Clooney recently won a Golden Globe for his performance here, and I think it's high time he get taken seriously as an actor, as well as one of Hollywood's biggest stars. In the meantime, enjoy "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and anticipate future celluloid from the Coen Brothers.
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