|O BROTHER, WHERE OUT THOU? (2000)|
Tim Blake Nelson
Chris Thomas King
|"Only a fool looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart."|
|Time: 106 mins.|
Genre: Black Comedy
Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Being a big fan of the Coen brothers, I try to see every movie they make, mainly because I know I'm going to be in for a visual and mental treat. No one makes movies as diverse and original as they do. They manage to always cast the most talented people and film them in a way that will make you blink with surprise. They have they're regular staple of actors (Goodman, Turturro, Hunter, McDormand), yet always throw in someone unexpected that changes the dynamic of the group. In the case of O BROTHER, that person is well-known hunk George Clooney.
Some may dislike his performance in this film, but I found him to be quite good as a prideful hick, who is intelligent but without much common sense. A man who refuses to let the small, wacky and dangerous trials of life waylay him on his quest for fortune and a return to his family life. This is a fun and crazy tale, based extremely loosely on the Odyssey, that is enjoyable mainly due to the main trio of characters created and those met along the way. In a Coen brothers movie, they are always well-defined and never boring. Clooney and his two co-stars, Turturro and Nelson, will make you root for their success and feel the pain of their setbacks...even when they make you laugh out loud.
The film opens during the Depression with the escape of Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney) and the two prisoners he's chained to Pete (Turturro) and Delmar (Nelson) from a Mississippi chain gang. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, they have 3 days to get to Everett's hometown to collect a certain treasure he's buried there before the land is flooded for a new dam. They're picked up by a blind man with the gift of prognosticating and according to him the road ahead is not going to be easy, but will be worthwhile. Needless to say, it goes from bad to worse as they move across the state always one baby-step ahead of the law. They're not alone in their battle for survival. Pappy O'Daniel (Durning), the long-term governor, is out campaigning for his re-election and his numbers aren't looking good. His opponent, Homer Stokes (Duvall) is out preaching reform and the people are eating it up. He needs a gimmick that will turn things around, but is at a loss as where to find one and getting no help from his advisors.
After being "reborn" in Jesus, our trio meets up with a young black musician named Tommy Johnson (King), who sold his soul to the devil for talent. Quickly running out of funds to aid in their trek, they decide to record a song at a local radio station as the Soggy-Bottom Boys. The recording is so good, they each earn $10. This will end up being the high point of their journey. From there, they are enticed by a trio of lovely ladies who seduce them and steal Pete, beaten and robbed by one-eyed Big Dan Teague and humiliated in a fistfight with Everett's ex-wife's fiance. Everett is not about to let some other yahoo marry his woman and raise his 7 daughters. He tries to convince Penny that he's a changed man, that he's "bonafide," but she refuses to listen. She wants her girls to have a normal and decent father, one that will provide for his family. Not a liar and a schemer. It's at this point that things get really crazy as Everett will stop at nothing to regain his family, dragging Pete and Delmar right into the lion's den with him. In the end, the Soggy Bottom Boys find their fortune with the help of the Governor and Everett regains his place in Penny's heart, but the path to get there is one you have to see to believe.
Unlike most films where the characters go from one crazy scenario to another, O BROTHER actually works and keeps the tale on a somewhat believable level. The trio never does anything so outrageously smart that it's out of character. They just somehow manage to turn each situation to their advantage. Since it takes place in the 30s, they are forced to travel by car or train, neither a very reliable mode of transportation at that time. I guess we buy into the tale because the predictions from the blind man warn us that it's going to be chock full of dangerous setbacks, but that somehow they're going to pull through. I have to say, I never thought it was too much and was constantly surprised from one situation to the next. I wasn't on the edge of my seat, this is a comedy after all, but I was highly amused. Clooney, Nelson and Turturro couldn't be more different, yet they blended together to create the perfect comedy trio, playing off each other in subtle and clever ways. Their facial expressions in certain situations are just to die for.
Besides the acting, the other two amazing aspects of the film were the soundtrack/score and the cinematography. I'm not generally a fan of bluegrass music, but the songs they used throughout the film really helped to establish mood, time and place. Plus, they were just catchy as hell. The look and feel of the film with it's golden tones and sweeping panoramas was just beautiful and evocative. Roger Deakins has shot all of the Coen brothers films, giving each their own style and language. It's hard to believe the same man who made the frames of FARGO so empty and bitterly cold, could create such a lush view of the Depression-era south. O BROTHER loses it's way at points, becoming too self-absorbed and unusual for its own good, but for the most part strings along a series of events that keep you wondering what's going to happen next. It's certainly not my favorite Coen brothers film, which is RAISING ARIZONA or FARGO depending on my mood, but this is an enjoyable trek into another world that leaves you feeling happy, if not fully satisfied.