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"We Thought You...Was a Toad!"

  • Jan 15, 2011
*** out of ****

Homer's "The Odyssey" is like the Shakespearean wonder of epic poems; it's difficult or perhaps even impossible to adapt. But that doesn't stop Joel and Ethan Coen for giving it a shot. And I'm glad they did. "O Brother, Where Art Thou" is a Coen Brothers film loosely based on Homer's masterpiece, and it entertains accordingly. In all honesty, I can say that it's the best Homer adaptation we can get considering the status of Hollywood's filmmakers these days. There have indeed been bigger and better films which referenced the work of Homer, but this is one of the more successful films to strip its influence bare. "O Brother, Where Art Thou" is not compelling; it is not powerful. What it happens to be is a huge bucket of silly fun, and by the Coen Brothers' standards I'm OK with that. The film looks incredible, and it has more than enough quirks to put it on the map as a rare "goofy" Coen Brothers film; one that delivers the directorial goods. This may not be the best way to follow-up the Coen Brothers' cult classic "The Big Lebowski", but then again "Raising Arizona" wasn't exactly the best possible follow-up to "Blood Simple", now was it? When it comes to brilliance, I guess you can't always get a hole in one. However, when it comes to being funny, clever, charming, and thoroughly interesting, the Coen Brothers seldom commit the sin of failing to amaze. This is not one of their best films; I will admit that. But I had a lot of fun with it, and it's good for a little tame-yet-wild fun. Not a lot of films can deliver such a thing on the same level as this one does. For that, I can forgive "O Brother, Where Art Thou" for its imperfect story, uneven vignettes, and lack of consistent focus. All of these things don't contribute a whole lot to making this film the bad piece of work that some have said it is, although I think they fit in quite well if you ask me. This film is meant to be a little rough around the edges, and perhaps that is what makes it so charming. After all, every rose has its thorns. "O Brother, Where Art Thou's" thorns aren't big enough to pierce the minds of men. They're minor bumps in the road.

I don't know if I want to call what "O Brother, Where Art Thou" has a plot. It felt more like a solid number of clever and amusing vignettes woven together into something which SOME PEOPLE would like to call a plot. That's not to say that it is bad, but often times the story feels uneven and unfocused. Still, it's not nearly as pointless as I remember it being. So the story is of three men who evade their captors and escape from prison camp. They set out on a journey that is to be dubbed "unforgettable" and "legendary". Perhaps if it had happened in real life, it would have been more incredible as a story. But then again, life isn't this convoluted. The men have many adventures; some strange, some fascinating, and some savage. These are the sequences which feel more like short vignettes; the scenes of short, sweet story-telling. The characters are all likable, and that goes for the villains too. It's the minor characters who get you on a quirkiness level, and some of them are even-dare I say-memorable. As for the three stooges themselves; they're just desperate men on a desperate journey. They make for quirky individuals sure, but they never seem to develop in terms of being actual "characters". But then again, this is more of a goofy adventure exploit than a complex tale of human deepness and whathaveyou. And somehow I find myself alright with that, therefore recommending to you this film. It's good; not great. However, the flaws are forgivable thanks to an honest sense of humor and a joyous sense of fun. Thank you, Joel and Ethan Coen. Thank you.

As we all know, I like George Clooney as an actor. He has charm, and he puts it to good use in nearly every role he plays. In this particular film, Clooney plays the same character he always plays. I am not saying this as a complaint, but I do feel that this is not one of his best performances. John Turturro once again gives his all, and does very well in terms of his troubled but promising career. Tim Blake Nelson, who is definitely not a Coen Brothers regular, does surprisingly well for a generic, dumb hillbilly type character. Each and every one of these characters is interesting in terms of inventive character quirks, but on a level of complexity they might as well feel a tad shallow. The supporting cast is also pretty awesome. It includes John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Stephen Root, and Charles Durning. Long story short, it's a pretty damn decent cast overall.

There is a lot to look at here. The Coen Brothers have nearly perfected their funny bone, creating one of their first successful films to be entirely a comedy. I feel that every one of their films has some sort of darkly comic element hidden underneath the violence and shadowy diabolical activity, although "O Brother, Where Art Thou" may just be the duo's lightest film. It has their signature touches embedded for plain view, but it's not nearly one of their best films. It's no "The Big Lebowski", and it's no "Blood Simple", but I'd have to say that I definitely enjoyed this one a whole lot. The soundtrack is full of the same old enjoyable Folk music that I would have expected out of the Coen Brothers, and the visuals are absolutely stunning for the most part. Once again, it's a fun film to look at. Perhaps you will not feel any emotional resonance building up while watching it, but this is a damn good example of how to adapt Homer's "The Odyssey" with a sense of adventurous taste. This film has an audience, but the audience that it was made for may very well be the only audience it will get. Some will dislike it; I know I did at first. But upon watching it again, I enjoyed myself a lot. Never is it as laugh-out-loud funny as the previous film by the brothers, "The Big Lebowski", but this is a well made film with impressive production design and values. See it for the sheer spectacle and classic goofy fun that it possesses. It's somewhat of a rare gem for me, and perhaps even for the Coen Brothers. So why watch it? For comedy, perhaps.

I found this film to be surprisingly interesting to watch. It is humorous, but perhaps not the kind of funny that we laugh out loud to. Still, it's a cleverly thought out film. It is symbolic, but not in the best sense possible. It may seem a bit pretentious, but it's also full of spectacle in the visual, sound, and performance departments. It is well directed in nearly every instant, although some moments it could have done without. But as long as it's entertaining, it's solid. And "O Brother, Where Art Thou" is most definitely solid. Not all will like it, but I admit that I did. I find myself strangely recommending "O Brother, Where Art Thou", despite the short-comings of the plot and whatnot. I'd like to say that the film is forgiven for its inconsistency, and that's something that I seldom grant films like these. Consider that perhaps it will not be in your taste, although there are some things you cannot deny, and one of those things is how good this film looks. You can't say no to something that you can see. That's damn right. Why would you want to anyways? Especially when a film is entertaining and visually amusing. If anyone's complaining, it's not me. That is if anyone's complaining at all. In this film's case, there are those who will rebel and those who will go with the flow. I do the second thing.

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January 17, 2011
Great review, I love this movie.
January 17, 2011
January 15, 2011
I actually really enjoyed this movie. It took me two viewings to really put it under the classic stamp but it was just everything you've said and more. Great review!!
January 17, 2011
did you see the follow up newsletter? you are the awesome of the week LOL!
January 17, 2011
More O Brother, Where Art Thou? reviews
review by . November 01, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Out on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, George Clooney met Homer.
The Coens told a big fib when they said that Fargo was based on a real life event, only to reveal after the fact that it wasn't.  Going in to see this film and seeing the proclamation that it's based on The Odysey could turn people off until you see our hapless heroes battling a cyclops, lured by sirens by the water and a wife named Penny.  Even real life events are given a unique spin such as a famous guitar player named Tommy Johnson or a cantankerous Governer played by Charles …
Quick Tip by . October 19, 2010
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I had to watch it twice to be able to laugh. The first time through everything was just a wee bit too funny to laugh. The second time through I had to pause it at several points. To paraphrase: Its a cinematic oddity; two seconds from guffawing everywhere.
Quick Tip by . November 01, 2009
The Coen's road movie in the depression with convicts having many adventures. Silly at times but endearing in the end.
review by . June 25, 2004
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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