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Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Volume LXVI, Number 28
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New Coen brother's film Intolerable Cruelty lives up to its name
by Alissa Green
Is it possible for a movie to
That's not to say, though, that the movie was not so funny that it left audience members gasping for breath. It's just that afterwards, that laughter felt empty -- so that it was difficult to remember what wasn't so tragic it was funny.
    A flat out mockery of the traditional love story, George Clooney with his trademark smirk, stars as the pull-out-all-stops divorce lawyer, Miles Massey, who comes to terms with his first taste of true love: Marilyn Rexroth, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. If Miles was the alpha male then Marilyn would certainly be his alpha female. Conniving yet classy, brilliant yet heartless, one might say that they are a match made in heaven -- if such a love affair was possible outside of pre-nups, gold diggers, and a marriage system that didn't later involve the courts.
    Filmed in a style reminiscent of the 1940's/50's bedroom farce, moments in the film don't attempt to be anything more. For instance, there's a continual joke about Miles and his teeth. He's frequently looking at them in mirrors to attest to their brightness, chomping down on them to discern their stability -- all in attempts to show how bored this poor, rich soul is.
    However, the gags go too far with the portrayal of Clooney's boss, Herb Myerson (Tom Aldredge), the senior partner of Mile's firm, Myerson and Massey. Grotesque at 85 years old with skin peeling, dark lighting makes him look like he's actually rotting. It's just unnecessary.
    Throughout the entire film, the Coen brothers hit the audience over the head with a bottle of irony, suggesting how lacking in life the very wealthy are -- its tastelessness just does not add to the overall picture.
    An extra character that does, however, is the fantastic performance given by Billy Bob Thorton as Marilyn's second husband, Howard D. Doyle, oil king extraordinaire. Maybe it's because his character appears to be the only genuine character in the entire film, but his bumbling characterization spices up the screen like a fresh bottle of Tabasco sauce. His lack of grammatical prowess and big white house could be compared to another oil big shot but that might be hitting a bit too close to, uh, Washington.
    Edward Hermann also gives a knock out performance as Rex Rexroth, a man both easily and comically influenced by younger girls and choo-choo trains, also known as Marilyn's first ex-hubby.
    Geoffrey Rush's performance as Donovan Donaly (yes, there does appear to be a loony name pattern here) is also notable. What is so frustrating about the film is that it has all the right ingredients for a sizzling and great movie. But, for whatever vengeful or bitter reason, the Coen brothers simply choose not to use them.
    Perhaps it's the more conventional nature of Intolerable Cruelty, when compared to past ventures such as the other Clooney driven film, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, or The Man Who Wasn't There that pulls its dark humor down; maybe the world it suggests to us is just too familiar. Nevertheless, wit is a hard commodity to find in Hollywood these days. The Coen brothers know this and for that we should be grateful. But just as Mandy Moore makes us question if there is a greater omnipotent power punishing the world by putting her in movies, so do the Coen Bros provoke this question through the cold, steely eyed lense of their camera.
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