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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Filed under the:  department.
Posted by:Ryan on Saturday, 20 Jan, 2001 @ 3:37 PM
Film / Movie

Ruprect is back with a review of the Coen’s "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", a comedy set in 1920-30’s Mississippi. George Clooney plays a complete moron, accompanied by two even greater morons, on a quest that parallels that in Homer’s Odyssey, all set to one of the best soundtracks since American Beauty’s score. A previous Coen flick, The Big Lebowski is one of my favourites, so i am very anxious for this film to make it’s way to Tallahassee. In the meantime, let’s hear what Ruprect had to say…

Review by Ruprect

********** ******* (17/20)

If anyone questions the talent of The Brothers Coen, be assured that their

latest film O Brother, Where Art Thou? removes any doubt.  To

actually describe a synopsis is a chore in itself, but here goes nothing.

First of all, the title is borrowed from the one Joel McCrea wanted to name

his adaptation of Preston Sturges’ classic Sullivan’s Travels.  How

this title actually relates to O Brother’s story remains to be seen and

is quite a stretch even after viewing.  Secondly, the plot plays Homeric

homage by loosely retelling The Odyssey, but set in a Depression era

Mississippi!  Finally, the film has about a dozen lyrical songs throughout,

likely qualifying it as a musical.

Does all this sound a bit daunting for a comedy?  Well it could be in

the wrong hands but keep in mind the Coens’ track record — The Big Lebowski,

Fargo, and The Hudsucker Proxy, all knee-slappers with a keen

understanding of the darker side of its characters.

So zany, so determinedly wacky is O Brother (and without being forced)

that one can’t help but laugh for the sheer surprise around each corner. 

From the start of the film, a bizarre period mood is set as the credits are

framed by 1930s-looking picture show screens, old time blue grass guitar plays

in the background, followed by the introduction to the Greek epic:

"Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man

  skilled in all ways of contending,

    the wanderer, harried for years

      on end…"

O Coens, where art thou taking us?  Following Homer’s episodic pathway,

we start with three escaped convicts Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney),

Pete (John Turturro, a Coen regular), and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). 

Everett assumes the leadership role of the outfit, citing his capacity for

abstract thought, although Pete contends.

Everett convinces the other two that there’s stolen treasure to be reclaimed

where he left it before getting thrown into the chain gang.  The Coens

revel in making Everett a dim-witted oddball, spouting lengthy explanations and

touting a large vocabulary ("I am the damn paterfamilias!"). 

Unknown to his cohorts, his real plan is to win back his wife (Holly Hunter) who

has taken a new "bona fide" beau.  

Along the way, we meet an assortment of wonderfully strange characters. 

There’s an eye-patched (Homer’s Cyclops?) Bible salesman Big Dan Teague (John

Goodman, another Coen staple), a mythical blues musician Tommy Johnson (Chris

Thomas King), the Mississippi incumbent governor Pappy O’Daniel (Charles Durning,

yet another Coen character), and real-life thug George "Babyface"

Nelson (Michael Badalucco).  Throw in some cattle mutilation, barn burning,

and valley flooding and you have a veritable cockamamie sideshow.

Add to all of this a wonderful soundtrack composed by T

Bone Burnett, who meticulously recreated the 1930s sound by reportedly using

vintage recording equipment.

Together with the Coens’ nostalgic sepia photography and Burnett’s redolent

old time folk tunes for the Soggy Bottom Boys (our trio becomes all the rage

over the air waves), O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a pure joy to see and


12 Responses to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

  1. Zippy Says:

    The subject of subjects…

    1. To clear up something from the review, Joel McCrea is an actor who starred in ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ as fictional director John L Sullivan. Sullivan decides to make a *serious* film called ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’. Sullivan’s Travels is quite possibly Preston Sturges’ best work (he wrote and directed it — talk about a connection to the Coens!), and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes classic comedy (and hasn’t seen it).

    2. If you are a complete moron, can others around you be even more complete? :)

    3. Glad to see Ruprect liked this new one from the Coen bros. I’ve loved all their films (including Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink), and look forward to catching this one.

  2. Nutcase Says:

    In Response To Zippy @ 01/20/2001 4:29:28 PM

    Re: The subject of subjects…

    1. Good to know.

    2. That was sorta the point really… just absurdity for the sake of it.

    3. Me too.. I really like Millers Crossing, but I haven’t seen Barton Fink yet.

  3. IAmWhoIHam Says:

    I thought it was boring

    I watch and love many movies, both “artsy-fartsy” and mainstream. I’ve loved all the rest of the Coen brothers movies, including Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, and The Big Lebowski.

    Sadly, this one was boring. :-(

    I’m sure any of you that love Homer’s Odyssey will get a big kick out of it, but I looked at my watch three times during this one… a record. :-(

  4. Ruprect Says:

    In Response To Nutcase @ 01/20/2001 4:51:49 PM

    corrections and such

    Thanks for the correction, Zippy. Looks like I got my facts mixed up (I admit I’m not familiar with Preston Sturges).

    For a lot of people, this movie fizzled. But I found it just an earnest silly comedy. And I really love the Coens’ almost slapstick look at period genres (see Hudsucker Proxy, a brilliant comedy)

    BTW, has anyone seen the Coens’ restored first film? “Blood Simple,” I believe it’s called.

  5. BigZaphod Says:

    Saw it. Loved it.

    I saw this in London awhile ago before it hit here in the US, and all I gotta say is: 3 thumbs up!!

  6. Ebor Says:

    In Response To IAmWhoIHam @ 01/20/2001 5:37:58 PM

    Re: I thought it was boring

    Man, all I can say is “We thought you was a toad” and “Aam a Daennie Dapper maen!” and it sends me ROTFL again. Great movie.I simply can’t imagine how you got bored. Perhaps after reading Ulysses and watching this one again you’ll get more out of it.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    extremely boring

    I nearly fell asleep in this one. It felt alot like Fargo– if you didn’t find making fun of people from Minnesota funny, then it wasn’t funny. Same with this. If you think that Southern accents are a riot, see this movie. If you get your jollies from jokes that are a bit more clever, then don’t see it.

    And, by the way, I’ve read the Odyssey. This movie has nothing to do with the Odyssey, except those four lines. Well, there are a few parallels, but they are so loose as to be extreme. There’s the blind prophet, but in the original, she (not he) is raped over an altar after warning the Trojans of the Greeks duplicity (Her name was Cassandra, as in the Cassandra syndrome of 12 Monkeys). There’s the sirens, but Odysseus plugged the ears of his men so that they would not be tempted and he alone could hear their tormenting song. And, of course, all of Ulysses’ men died during the voyage and he alone returned to kill some 200-odd suitors for his wife.

    All in all, then, I was bored because the humor wasn’t that great, and I really wasn’t impressed by the claim that it had anything to do with the Odyssey.

  8. AllNew Says:

    It’s interesting…

    …how different a movie review can be. Some people have loved this film, other hate it. I don’t think I’ve seen a film with such a divided response for awhile.

    Still have to see this one, I ended up seeing _State and Main_ (very good too) instead the last time I tried to see _O Brother Where Art Thou?_ because it sold out. I loved _The Hudsucker Proxy_, and if this is anywhere close to _The Hudsucker Proxy_ in quality, it must be awesome.

  9. Ruprect Says:

    In Response To Anonymous @ 01/22/2001 1:01:55 PM

    You don’t like it? They dock ya!

    It’s a farce, sure, sure.

  10. Ruprect Says:

    In Response To AllNew @ 01/22/2001 4:26:03 PM

    Re: It’s interesting…

    Good point. Let’s see… how about Fight Club? That one was quite divisive amongst the literatti.

    I’ve heard probably 50/50 on Snatch. BTW, I loved it — not quite as much as LSTSB, but it was good.

  11. IAmWhoIHam Says:

    In Response To Anonymous @ 01/22/2001 1:01:55 PM

    there was more

    SPOILERS (sort of)

    I too thought it was boring (see above), but there were more references to the Odyssey. For example, John Goodman’s character was obviously Cyclops (patch over one eye), and he even nearly gets killed the same way as the Cyclops in the Odyssey (spear in the eye).

    I imagine there were even more that could be gotten by someone more familiar with the Odyssey. One thing though… I loved Fargo after I saw it more than once. This however… booooring. :-(

  12. Saperstein Ali Says:

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