opening titles over a rendition of "The
Big Rock Candy Mountain" began yet
another Coen Brothers pleaser. Now be
warned, y'all: If RAISING ARIZONA didn't
raise a chuckle, if FARGO failed to amuse,
if THE BIG LEBOWSKI didn't bring a smile
to your lips, well, you may just be dead.
But you also may not appreciate the whimsy
and humor of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?
This review is for the rest of you.
Coens, realizing that The Odyssey could
be a great road movie, shrewdly set their
version in Depression-era American South.
Ulysses "Everett" McGill (Clooney)
escapes from a Mississippi chain gang
with fellow chainees Pete Hogwallop (Turturro)
and Delmar O'Donnel (Tim Blake Nelson)
and promises to share with them the $1.2
million from his armored-car robbery.
The catch is that the loot is buried at
his old homestead, in a valley that will
be flooded for rural electrification in
less than a week.
they set off, they encounter a blind seer,
who tells them that they will behold many
wondrous and strange things, before finding
treasure-but not the treasure they seek.
Along their way, these three encounter
pigs, fire, Sirens, a Cyclops, cows, and
lots of other stuff that you'll vaguely
recollect from the dim mists of high school
like the merry pranksters they are, the
Coens drop in historical personages like
Pappy O'Daniel (Durning, who's made a
specialty of high-flown elected officials;
see BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS; STATE
AND MAIN), Robert Johnson (blues guitarist
King; here called "Tommy" Johnson),
and Babyface Nelson (Badalucco). Other
favored Coen actors in attendance are
John Goodman as Big Dan Teague, a Bible
salesman with a lesson to teach, and Holly
Hunter as Penny, Everett's long-suffering
Coens also amused themselves by referencing
wildly diverse movies, from COOL HAND
LUKE and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE
KID to THE OXBOW INCIDENT to THE PIANO,
and especially SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, from
which they appropriated their title.
boy Clooney is a trip and a half as the
charmer with a mouthful of high-falutin'
palaver, but the man who steals the show
is Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson, already my
personal hero for writing and directing
1997's EYE OF GOD, is wonderful as Delmar,
a guy so sweet and equable you can't even
imagine how he could wind up on a chain
gang. He also wears his Southern guy role
well, which can't be said of Turturro.
Turturro, alas, didn't seem to get the
word that the Coens were laughing about
the South without making merciless sport
of it. His Cletus-the-slack-jawed-yokel
act really stuck out, especially with
Clooney and Nelson being on their game.
giggled, we snorted, and we laughed out
loud. Sometimes I laughed not because
what just happened was funny, but because
the whole piece of work was such a captivating,
entertaining, delightful piece of work.
Like a Max Fleischer cartoon, you can
only watch and marvel and wonder, "What
the hellare these guys smoking?"
And then there's the great music throughout
the film. Damn! Another soundtrack to
Bogucka, an Action Grrl!