Movie Project #35: O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Genre: Comedy/Adventure/Crime
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman and Holly Hunter
Runtime:Β 106 minutes

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of those films that just slipped through the cracks for me over the years. I remember the soundtrack being a hot commodity — and damn that bluegrass is infectious — but never sat down to watch the entire movie. It’s a shame that it took me twelve years to see this because this is yet another ridiculously fun effort from the Coen brothers.

Set in 1930s rural Mississippi and loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the film follows the exploits of three escaped convicts who are in search of hidden treasure. The trio, comprised of de facto leader Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) and his two pals, Pete Hogwallop (Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Nelson), run into all sorts of trouble on their journey. Not only are they constantly chased by the law, they also have a habit of becoming entangled in other unexpected endeavors. They form a bluegrass group — the Soggy Bottom Boys — with a young black musician named Tommy (Chris Thomas King), and as a result somehow get caught up in a political race as well as a KKK rally. The group also comes across undesirable characters including a trio of “Sirens”, a one-eyed bible thumper (Goodman) and a bipolar bank robber named George Nelson (Michael Badalucco).

Oh yeah, and in the middle of this, Ulysses is trying to get back with his estranged wife, Penny (Holly Hunter). It’s a wild ride for sure.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

At its core, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a road movie, and we are there for the entire epic adventure. The aforementioned run-ins with other characters lead to a number of memorable scenes, many of which are so ridiculous that it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Of course, the addictive soundtrack adds even more to the overall film, and even non-bluegrass fans should enjoy the catchy tunes. Even as I sit here writing this review, I have “Man of Constant Sorrow” stuck in my head. That’s a good thing.

Clooney, Turturro and Nelson make for an entertaining trio, and they play off each other fantastically. Clooney’s natural charisma makes him the obvious choice for the leader of the group, but I was most impressed with Nelson’s humorous slack-jawed yokel of a performance. The overall cast is amazingly well-rounded, with great takes from Goodman, Hunter and my personal favorite, Stephen Root, who plays a blind radio station manager that gives the Soggy Bottom Boys their big break.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

While some may find fault in how O Brother, Where Art Thou? sometimes feels like a collection of short films thrown together as one, there’s no denying that this is uproarious fun from beginning to end. The Coen brothers have a knack for these zany comedies, and the script is full of brilliant, quick-witted dialogue. I had a great time with this film, and I get the feeling that this is one that just gets better with age.


41 thoughts on “Movie Project #35: O Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000]

  1. Bubbawheat says:

    I’ve watched this movie many times, and it was one of the first soundtracks I ever bought. Amazing music. It was a high point when I heard a promo for an episode of Supernatural featuring a new version of the song O’ Death. And there’s a great Wizard of Oz homage during that KKK scene.

    I also remember when it was first coming out that I had heard that the actors were all doing voice training so they could do the singing themselves, although the only one that ended up on the final song was Tim Blake Nelson singing In the Jailhouse Now. Definitely one of my favorite movies.

    • Eric says:

      Oh wow, didn’t know that about the singing. Yeah, I was surprised by how much I loved the music. I’m not a huge bluegrass guy, but I couldn’t get enough of it in this. The soundtrack has been getting a lot of airplay from me on Spotify. πŸ™‚

  2. MikesFilmTalk says:

    I am ashamed to admit that I still haven’t seen this film. I absolutely adore the Coen bros and have watched everything else they’ve done. Considering that I’m also a Clooney fan, I’m going to have to watch this. Great review! πŸ™‚

  3. tranquilspace says:

    It’s a gem. I think it might be the last of their films that had that air of innocence about it. I’m getting too old to enjoy the bleak humour of things like Burn After Reading – I’d probably have liked it better 20 years ago. I found The Man Who Wasn’t There utterly beautiful though, but didn’t even watch No Country for Old Men.

    • Eric says:

      That’s a good point. Their recent output is quite a bit different than films like this or Raising Arizona (which I noticed a lot of similarities between the two). I haven’t seen The Man Who Wasn’t There yet, but I will be pushing it up to the top of my queue now. Glad to hear you enjoyed that one so much.

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, I read somewhere that the Coens never actually read the Odyssey — they just based it on pop culture adaptations and references. I thought that was pretty funny.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks, Morgan. There are a few Coen films I need to see as well, but this is definitely up there as one of my favorites so far.

      If you’re looking for something similar in style, I recommend Raising Arizona. Just saw it for the first time this summer and it was a lot of ridiculous fun.

  4. sati says:

    Great review! I like this film a lot, it’s very quirky and at times I almost feel as if Wes Anderson made it, because of all the vibrant colors and fun music. Clooney was so much fun in this one.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks, Sati. That’s a great observation — this film really does have a distinctive style to it. Apparently it was one of the first films to use digital color collection, which I had no idea.

  5. The Heretic says:

    I really like this movie and its references to The Odyssey. I like how Clooney’s character cannot live without his Dapper Dan grease.

  6. Fogs' Movie Reviews says:

    Good choice man. This is a Movie everyone should see for sure. Glad you have now! It’s a ton of fun, just overflowing with the Coens quirky humor.

    It’s even better if you’re familiar enough with the Odyssey to catch the references! πŸ˜€

  7. John says:

    Awwwww, yeah… (that’s the only appropriate thing you can say when someone sees a Coen film they haven’t seen before)

    If you really want to have fun with this movie and if it motivates you enough to do so, I highly recommend checking out Sullivan’s Travels from Preston Sturges, which is where the Coen film got its name.

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