Friday October 10, 2003

Movie Review: Intolerable Cruelty

Coen brothers’ latest: Fun but no Lebowski

Oct. 10, 2003 — It’s unmistakable that the main drawing point to Intolerable Cruelty is four simple words — Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s a testament to their star power that A-list celebrities George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are pushed to the background.

For those not in the know, the Coen brothers are the brains behind such classics as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Hudsucker Proxy, and their cult hit, The Big Lebowski. Relying mainly on writing brilliantly sublime dialogue and creating perhaps the most colorful minor characters in film history, the Coen brothers look to make cult classics accessible — molding a delicate balance of films subtle enough to require a second viewing, yet humorous enough to warrant it.

Their films are as difficult to describe as they must be to make — somehow realistic and absurd at the same time. The dialogue seems composed entirely of the funniest conversation you’ve had the entire year. This creates an almost surreal quality to the films, where the constant over-the-top dialogue makes the movie more like a loose collaboration of scenes as opposed to a coherent film.

It’s a different approach to filmmaking, but the Coens have it down pat.

As for Intolerable Cruelty, there is a disheartening moment about halfway through that makes it obvious that The Big Lebowski is the pinnacle of the brothers’ comedy. There’s a fantastic courthouse scene in which divorce lawyer Miles Massey (Clooney) has to discredit gold-digging — but faithful — wife Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) and he does so by bringing to court Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy (Jonathan Hadary). See, the then-single Rexroth went to Heinz, who was the one who set them up, because she asked for someone rich and single. The Baron contains several different over-the-top caricatures, and it’s just overkill. It’s not Lebowski’s finely crafted Jesus, or Brandt, or Donny. The Baron is far too simplistic, far too easy.

That’s the problem with Intolerable Cruelty: Most scenes are simply too easy. There are times where it feels like the Coen brothers attempted to make “a Coen brothers film.” Especially at the beginning — the middle of the film eases out of the rut and flows amazingly well. Billy Bob Thornton turns in a hilarious cameo as Marilyn’s oil baron and second, short-term husband, and Clooney and Zeta-Jones turn in surprisingly funny performances. The pair’s feeling for the flow of the film is a testament to the directing prowess of the brothers.

And so the characters go through the movie, interesting subplots coming in one after the other, creating a nice pacing but no great moment.

Really, the film works more as a romantic comedy gone haywire than anything else. Although Intolerable Cruelty lacks the depth of the Coen brothers’ previous films, it’s a decidedly enjoyable movie. Anyone expecting an interesting look into nihilist culture may be sorely disappointed, but with intense star power and a bizarre-yet-flowing plot, the movie is definitely worth the price of admission.

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Today's Headlines

Oct 10, 2003
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