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O Brother, Where Art Thou?
2000 - PG-13 - 102 Mins.
Director: Joel Coen
Producer: Ethan Coen, John Cameron, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan
Written By: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman
Review by: David Trier
   
There is no cinema without the Coen brothers. Whether you like their movies or not (I'm somewhere in between), you have to recognize they bring a certain something to the screen we would otherwise miss. I think it's the sense that they truly enjoy making movies, not just "financing projects." So despite this film's many flaws, it's enjoyable from beginning to end.

The story takes place in Mississipi around the Depression and our hero is Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney), who may not be the brightest bulb, but ceratinly has an extensive vocabulary that makes him stand out. The film starts with him escaping prison with two inmates, Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete (John Turturro), to which he is chained. They head off on an adventure toward buried treasure which takes them to the strangest of places with the strangest of characters. Stephen Root plays a radio station owner that inadvertantly makes them famous, John Goodman plays a one-eyed psychotic Bible salesman, Daniel Von Bargen plays the mysterious lawman always at their heels, Chris Thomas King as a guitar-playing black sidekick, Charles Durning is an incumbent governor running for re-election, Holly Hunter as Everett's wife, Michael Badalucco as a sensitive wacky mobster, and, yes, a whole host of other loonies and misfits. The time pressure to get to the treasure is set by the fact that the area will be flooded soon to make for hydroelectric power. As mysteriously as each character disappears, they seem to reappear again by the end and everyone pretty much gets what they deserve.

Every performance in this movie is terrific. Clooney, although miscast as someone who shouldn't look so much like Clark Gable, delivers a funny and likeable performance. John Turturro, one of the great infallibles of cinema, lays down another hilarious but layered role. Tim Blake Nelson is without a doubt the star of the film because he makes dumb ol' Delmar so amusing and demanding on the screen. If for no other reason, he makes this film at least a renter. My favorite supporters were Stephen Root's radio station man and Daniel Von Bargen's evil lawman, both terrific character actors in their element. Michael Badalucco has some pretty funny moments too.

The thing that keeps this movie from being really good is its sloppy storyline. The characters are well-written and well-performed, but they sort of appear, disappear, and appear again without much reason. The real conflict of the story, Everett's attempt to get back to the wife that dumped him, isn't even introduced until at least two thirds of the way through the film at which point it's not particularly engaging. In the end you're left with a feeling that not a whole lot has really been accomplished. The several movies within O Brother have their conclusions, but there's no real throughline for the film as a whole. The film claims to be based partially on Homer's Oddysey, but a man returning to his family, a one-eyed character, a few Greek names, and a scene with sirens (which is nice but makes no sense at all) wasn't enough to sell me on that idea. I think it was mostly in jest anyway. Also, some of the characters, although interesting, are so unlikeable, it's hard to be thrilled when they succeed. Everett's wife certainly isn't very nice and the incumbent governor (although an underdog who's less hateful than his opposition) leaves a lot to be desired.

The music is great and most of the story seems to be told through this joyous (if not creepy) music of the old south. The musical numbers are a pleasure to watch and Clooney, Nelson, and Turturro make a great show. Chris Thomas King may not be very expressive, but he's a hell of a guitar player. The film doesn't really come together as a whole, but there are some fantastic moments. There's a great KKK scene that sticks in my mind as I write this but it isn't the only one. It's The Impostors meets The Blues Brothers meets Deliverance. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is good fun and at least worth renting.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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