O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Hit the road. Pete, Delmar and Everett (Turturro, Nelson and Clooney) escape from a chain gang and go in search of buried treasure...
dir Joel Coen
scr Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
with George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King, Charles Durning, Wayne Duvall, Michael Badalucco, Daniel Von Bargen, Del Pentecost, Ed Gale
Universal-Touchstone 00/US 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Yet another quirky film from the Coen brothers, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is based on Homer's Odyssey, of all things. And in Coen-tone it plays like a cross between The Hudsucker Proxy and Raising Arizona. Yes, it's very stylised and mannered, it tries far too hard to be funny, and it's still rather beguiling. It's also just a bit to odd to really work.

Everett, Delmar and Pete (Clooney, Nelson and Turturro) have escaped from a chain gang in 1930s Mississippi. Everett is the fast-talking, brainy leader, although the grumpy Pete is challenging him at every turn (Delmar just dopily goes along with whatever). Their goal is a treasure that will be buried by a dammed-up river in just a few days. And on their epic journey they encounter a one-eyed Bible salesman/crook (Goodman), a gifted blues musician who has sold his soul to the devil (King), a couple of battling politicians (Durning and Duvall), a bank robber (Badalucco), a tenacious cop (Von Bargen) and a woman from Everett's past (Hunter). All while a blind prophet's words echo in their minds: "You will find a fortune but not the fortune you seek."

Heavy stylisation makes the film very hard to grab onto--visually (everything looks soaked in saffron), dramatically (performances seem straight from a 1930s Laurel & Hardy film) and thematically (erm, it's based on Homer!). It looks amazing, but everything is played for a (cheap) laugh, and absolutely nothing about the film is remotely believable. That said, there are some wonderful things that make it well worth seeing: Every scene is infused with fantastic bluegrass music, the film does look amazing, and the central themes of seeking a treasure, confronting expectations and discovering inner resources are remarkably effective for such an otherwise flaky film!

[12--adult themes and situations] 7.Aug.00
UK release 15.Sep.00; US release 22.Dec.00

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"I think O Brother is going to turn into one of those films that you either love or hate ... it seems that the very things that didn't work for some are the very things that I enjoyed the most. The film was made for me by the fact that it was completely surreal and totally unbelievable - and yes, pretty flaky as well. I gave my logic and reason the night off and enjoyed a series of bizarre meetings during the main characters journey. I thought it looked gorgeous - really rich in colour and beautifully photographed. The quirky touches like the blind prophet, Everett's (Clooney) obsession with hair cream and the flaky dialogue between Everett and his daughters only added to my overall enjoyment. The music, throughout, added to the overall atmosphere of the film and was quite wonderful - the negro spirituals and the siren song were very haunting. In fact, it was so good I am off to see it again next week...." --Jo C, West Sussex.

"Quite frankly, I did not want to see this movie. Even though I knew Clooney had won a Golden Globe for his role, and even though I kept hearing the 'critics are raving about this movie' and on and on. Even the previews did not appeal to me. But I have to say, it takes some adjusting to Clooney in this role, and therefore it may have been wise for him to do it, because I have this picture of him as Dr Ross on ER, or the world-saving hero in The Peacemaker, then there was that vampire movie.... Once I get the macho-hero, best-looking-man-of-the-year image out of my head and settle down to figure out what is going on, the movie was fun. George is Ulysses, working on a chain gang in the Depression era, and he has escaped from the chain gang, with two 'unfortunates' who are in awe of his glib speech. They are literally along for a wild trip simply because they are chained together, and escape because the officers chasing them are portrayed as bumbling idiots. We are taken along for the fun ride, and funny it is - Clooney does a great job in this movie, Holly Hunter has a minor part, but is no less amusing. This is a fun, enjoyable movie, and should change your image of George Clooney - it changed mine. Hopefully he can break out of the image we have of him, and exercise his creative muscles in other roles - he did a good job in this one. Go see this movie and have a fun ride!" --Laurie T, Minneapolis 7.Feb.01.

"The best film I've seen in 'I don't know when' to just let go and have fun. It is not realistic, but why do we have to be? I laughed so hard that, literally, my arms and shoulders ached! I would have gone back to see it the second time the next day if I hadn't been going to a birthday party. To think that two idiots and a con man could keep an audience entertained for almost two hours is uncommon. The music was wonderful. For those of us who live in the South, there was a lot of truth in 'getting saved' and the baptisms in the river (I WAS!). Nostalgia for those of us who relate to and understand it and bittersweet because of its simplicity and honesty. Didn't know Clooney had it in him. I will see it again ... and will take my 81-year-old mother the next time!" --Sandi R, Virginia 3.Mar.01.

"Based upon The Odyssey by Homer. Vastly over rated by the 'experts', and in consequence it's very disappointing for us 'non experts'. Clooney is very good as an intelligent chain gang member who escapes from the chain gang attached to 2 not so intelligent chain gangers, and this follows their adventures. Extremely well made - which I suspect is the reason why this won favour with the crirics, but entertainment wise this doesn't really hit the mark - unless you like country and western music which is featured heavily here. The humour is mostly weak and barely manages to raise more than a smile most of the time." --Jeff Greenhalgh, 12.Nov.02

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall