Clooney holds his own in 'Intolerable Cruelty' By Bruce R. Miller, Journal staff writer
It's easy to see the Coen Brothers' fingerprints on "Intolerable Cruelty."
Odd characters are everywhere; canted camera angles are givens.
But this isn't a true Coen Brothers project in the "Fargo" sense. Written by someone else, it lacks the experience that informed so many of their earlier hits. Still, Joel and Ethan get plenty out of George Clooney as a slippery divorce lawyer whose Massey pre-nup is the gold standard in the business. He goes up against Catherine Zeta-Jones and discovers a formidable foe. She's a serial wife who lives for the big settlement. When Clooney is able to give an ex the results he never thought possible, she goes into kill mode and aims for Clooney.
Using Billy Bob Thornton as bait, she lures Clooney into her trap and gets him right where she wants him. He's taken with the woman's skill and believes she just might be the one for him. When he proposes - and she refuses a pre-nup - he thinks a corner has been turned.
Ah, but that's hardly the case. The cat-and-mouse game heats up; Clooney loses, then wins, the cheese.
He's so good as a slippery attorney it's surprising someone didn't think of the guise earlier. Zeta-Jones, meanwhile, may be the best femme fatale working in films today. In addition to being the most gorgeous woman in films since Michelle Pfeiffer, she's a smart, sassy opponent who can stand up to any man and look down on him.
Director Joel Coen gets some smileage out of Edward Hermann and Geoffrey Rush in supporting roles, but he really succeeds with Thornton. He's so enigmatic, there's no way to tell whose side he's playing on.
"Intolerable Cruelty" isn't a classic romantic comedy - some of it isn't all that funny - but it is proof that the Coens can play in any sandbox and kick up their own kind of dust.
Another pass through their typewriter and this might have been a film able to stand next to "Raising Arizona" and "O Brother Where Art Thou?"
As is, it's every bit as watchable as "The Big Lebowski."
Rated PG-13, "Intolerable Cruelty" features some adult talk.
On a scale of four stars, "Intolerable Cruelty" gets: