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: 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.


True Grit [2010]

True Grit [2010]

True Grit [2010]
Directors: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Genre: Drama/Western
Language: English
Country: USA

True Grit is the famed Coen Brothers’ re-imagining of the novel and 1969 film of the same name. I haven’t seen the original film (or read the book) so I went into the theater knowing very little about this movie beforehand. The story follows a 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (the debuting Hailee Steinfeld), who sets out to avenge the death of her father by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). She obtains help from the unlikely pairing of the one-eyed alcoholic U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and the clean-cut by-the-book Texas ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon).

This is a Coen Brothers movie through and through. The dialogue is razor-sharp and full of wit and humor, with a significant portion of it coming from the snarky Mattie Ross. Between her and Cogburn, there are plenty of memorable one-liners. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of dark humor in this film. All of the characters are well-crafted and are aided by an absolutely outstanding cast. Hailee Stenfield is remarkable as Mattie, and it is hard to believe this is her first feature film. She is sure to get a lot of work after this performance. Jeff Bridges is excellent as always — he sure has perfected the old drunk role, hasn’t he? If I had one complaint about his performance, it is that he was almost *too* good at playing the slurring drunk since there were moments were I had difficulty understanding what he was saying. It should also be noted that Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper really delivered as the “bad guys” in the movie, although their roles were unfortunately rather small.

True Grit is a strong addition to the Western genre, and it has me intrigued to see the 1969 original as well. The movie doesn’t really do anything new, but it is very well-made with an incredible attention to details of its time period. True Grit is a great story of revenge and unlikely camaraderie, and it is highly entertaining. Definitely recommended.