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Flick Picks
Intolerable Cruelty Is Coen's Ode To Love
Brian Dukes, Up & Coming Weekly, Oct. 15, 2003 October 15, 2003
Intolerable Cruelty marks another stunningly successful film under the belts of directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen. The film is more to the point - and shorter - than most of their other films, but the end result remains the same: solid filmmaking that's both wildly entertaining and technically brilliant.
The plot, while deceptively simple, centers around L.A. divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) and the romantic quagmire he finds himself entangled in with Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the ex-wife of one of Massey's clients and subsequent adversary. Massey is a man in search of something he's missing - despite possessing more financial and personal success than he'd ever need. Massey is a man at the top of his profession (there's a course on the "Massey Pre-Nup" taught at Harvard) who sees himself as empty and devoid of ... something extra. Marylin, on the other hand, is a classic man-eating, gold-digger - the kind Massey normally disposes of in court, having exposed them for their true intentions. The pair find themselves drawn together much like an irresistible force and an immovable object - and the sparks fly as the Coen Bros twist and contort the perceptions of love and marriage all the while.
Unlike most Coen Bros pics, Cruelty stars only one return player (Clooney) from their other films. While this was a bit surprising, it's also refreshing. However the cast triumphs on all fronts and features a lineup that includes Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Paul Adelstein, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thornton, and Julia Duffy. Terrific performances are turned in all around - par the course in a Coen flick - but the most notable, besides Clooney and Zeta-Jones, are given by Thornton, Cedric and relative newcomer, Paul Adelstein.
Clooney and Zeta-Jones crackle and spark with energy. Their scenes together are electric, and their scenes apart don't fail that energy either ... they bring everyone else up another notch. Clooney's Massey is an excellent example of an actor performing at the peak of his ability, while Zeta-Jones' Marylin is sultry and seductive, yet vile and contemptible. However, as they do, the Coen Bros wrangle our emotions and perceptions as they manage to take something as simple as a love story and inject it with dark sarcasm, in addition to crafting a story that takes various elements and plot threads and binds them all together in the end.
Never ones to shy away from metaphor or allusion, the Coen's ham it up in Cruelty, making great use of a prenuptial agreement as a romantic device. It's the "Massey Pre-Nup," in fact, that plays a central role in the advancement of the Massey-Maryiln relationship.
Further Coen antics include scenes with Massey's Godfather-esque boss, an almost Darth Vader fixture in the firm. Then there's the invincible Rexroth Rottweilers, and the frequent theme of nailing someone's backside as the end product of marriage.
Full of zippy dialogue, hilarious and well-drawn characters, Intolerable Cruelty is fun and fun to watch. The Coen Brothers play to their strengths, and get more than their money's worth from their cast - or as they'd say: they "nail your ass."

©Up & Coming Magazine 2003
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