They have a plan,
but not a clue.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the tale of three escaped
convicts set in the depression era South. By now, everyone knows that the
story parallels Homer's Odyssey; so the audience gets a strange mixture of
1930's movie clichés and ancient literature references.
Except the clichés aren't really clichés because this is a Coen brother
movie. Take for example the scene where our convicts steal a pie that is
left cooling on a windowsill. And then one of them sneaks into the picture
and leaves some money on the sill with a rock on top.
But, the problem is that the scene with the pie isn't really that funny. I
kept wondering whether some of the unfunny moments in the movie were
scenes I didn't remember from the Odyssey. I kept wondering if Joel and
Ethan felt handcuffed by the source material and felt obliged to include
Take, for example, the dull subplot involving a gubernatorial race. Who
needs it? I know this had to have come from the Odyssey, because Joel and
Ethan are too funny for this material.
Don't get me wrong the movie has its laughs. Most of the good stuff is
either a sight gag (like the cooked gopher on a stick) or running jokes
like George Clooney's "hair pomade."
Some of the performances are good. Of the three convicts I was most
impressed with Tim Blake Nelson who plays Delmar. Clooney, however, is
miscast if only because he's not good enough of an actor to be in a Coen
brother movie. Clooney's character is sort of confusing anyway. At times
he seems incredibly dense. He just can't figure out that a bible salesman
isn't really a bible salesman. Yet, he has a vocabulary approaching that
of Norman Mailer.
I was also disappointed with the soundtrack. O Brother claims to be a
musical (and there are a lot of songs). The first song is the funniest.
It's about a sort of Shangri La for convicts where all the cops have
"wooden legs" and all the prison bars are made of tin. Also, the number
"sung" by Clooney is great (except we hear it twice as if there aren't
enough good songs to go around). I also expected all original music.
Instead we hear "You are My Sunshine" at least twice.
O Brother, Where Art Thou has all of the quirkiness of Raising Arizona,
but little of the glee. I will say that Coen brother movies are usually
better the second time around. The first time I saw Barton Fink and The
Big Lebowski, I was underwhelmed. They proved later to stand up pretty
well. Here is my ranking of Joel and Ethan's films:
2. Blood Simple
3. Raising Arizona
4. Miller's Crossing
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Barton Fink
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8. The Hudsucker Proxy
Note: Number 2 and 3 could be interchanged as well as numbers 5 and 6
depending on your mood.