Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 2000
Directed by
Joel Coen
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Synopsis: Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), and his dim-witted companions Delmar O'Donnel (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) escape from a Mississippi chain gang and travel cross country to retrieve Ulysses' stash of $1.2 million before its hiding-place is submerged in a dam-building project. Pursued by the law, robbed and seduced, they also manage to become local heroes as country blues singers, "The Soggy Bottom Boys".

The work of the Coen brothers (Ethan is producer and co-writer) has two principal themes – crime and comedy, the proportions vary from film to film. Most reviewers tend to favour those films which are principally crime stories, I, however, invariably prefer the comedies. O Brother, allows me to be consistent. Although it does not reach the heights of my personal favourite, The Hudsucker Proxy, it manifests that film’s qualities – exuberant pace, absurdist wit, exacting production standards and an intimate knowledge of the classic '30s and '40s films of Capra, Hawks and Sturges (the title of the Coen's film is taken from Sturges' 1941 Sullivan's Travels, it being the proposed title of the film which director John L. Sullivan is intending to make).

The Depression era has been host to a huge number of fine films looking back to its strangely fascinating days. Not only is it intriguing historically, being on the cusp of the old and the new ways of life, its music is irresistible and the struggle for survival seems to be a perfect backdrop for turning harmless eccentricities into lethal extremes. O Brother takes all these opportunities and milks them to the maximum. There is nothing new here, rather it is a compendium of characters, scenes and settings seen from other films but it is assembled with great skill and delivered with rumbunctious enthusiasm, making it a highly enjoyable (well, except for the cruelty to cows and frogs) ride across the state of Mississippi.

According to the opening credits it is based on Homer’s Odyssey but (with the exception of a scene involving sirens) the link is hardly apparent. George Clooney as Ulysses remains squarely centre stage throughout the film and he plays his role with vigour, ably supported by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson, who is perfect as the gormless third member of the knuckle-headed trio of escapees. In fact the entire cast, many of them Coen stalwarts, enter into the project wholeheartedly, laying on the Southern accents as thick as hog grease and mugging like players in a silent era film. There is no attempt made here to develop character, O Brother is full of stereotypes played for laughs. The soundtrack is excellent, with original music by T-Bone Burnett, the production design superb and there are many outstanding visual moments. Given that you appreciate the knowingly tongue-in-cheek wit with which this film is made, you’ll spend an enjoyable 106 minutes with it.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst