'Intolerable Cruelty' shows Coen bros at best
Andy Kanak, Columnist
November 19, 2003
It is not hyperbole to say that the Coen brothers have never made a bad movie. I have been a fan of the writing/directing/producing duo ever since I saw 1987's "Raising Arizona." Their films have always been quirky and often hilarious. "Intolerable Cruelty" fits right in with the rest of the Coens' work.
"Intolerable Cruelty" stars George Clooney as Miles Massey. Massey is a feared divorce attorney who never loses. He's written a prenuptual agreement that is so airtight that it's studied at Harvard Law School. The problem is that Massey has become so bored with winning that he will take cases that should be impossible to win just to challenge himself. Rex Rexroth provides Massey with a big challenge.
Marilyn Rexroth (played by the gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones) hires a private detective (played by Cedric the Entertainer) to capture her husband cheating on her. Cedric captures Rex with a fluffy blond on video, and Rex goes straight to Massey. Rex doesn't want Marilyn to get a single cent in the divorce settlement even though he is completely at fault and she has done nothing wrong. Massey is smitten the moment he sees Marilyn, but still does everything in his power to make sure Marilyn is left penniless, as any good divorce lawyer would.
Marilyn knows she lost when Massey calls his first witness Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy, an effeminate, dog-carrying concierge. This courtroom scene is one of the funniest with the greatest dialogue centering around the word "before'' and drawing some great comic suspense from the Baron, who remembers that years ago Marylin told him she wanted a rich husband. Marylin loses everything but vows to marry again and to get even with Massey. Marilyn marries Howard D. Doyle (perfectly played by Billy Bob Thornton), an extremely rich southerner who never stops talking. To Miles' chagrin, she loves this dim, rambling man enough to sign the infamous Massey prenup. But, Marilyn is just out to get even, and a few divorces and torn prenups later she is in line to get Massey's considerable fortune.
All the actors in this film are hilarious, even the smaller parts. Geoffrey Rush plays a pony-tailed producer who doesn't know the lyrics to "The Boxer." Irwin Keyes steals two scenes as an assassin with asthma named Wheezy Joe. His demise is one the funniest deaths on film. Tom Aldredge plays the eldest partner in Massey's law firm who has tubes running from him in all directions and is kept alive by machines. Already mentioned is Cedric the Entertainer and Jonathan Hadary who played the Baron Krauss von Espy. Of course, Catherine Zeta-Jones was a delight to watch in each of her scenes. Stealing the show completely however is George Clooney, who has never been funnier. Hopefully he will be given more comedic work in the future.
"Intolerable Cruelty" marked a few firsts for the Coen brothers. This is the first time they've directed a film that wasn't written by themselves.
They obviously had a big hand in writing the screenplay and certainly added enough touches to make the film easily recognizable as one of theirs. This is also the Coen brothers' first romantic-comedy. (Or is "Raising Arizona" a romantic-comedy too?)
Though many of their films feature comedy and love-stories this is their first attempt at the genre. And, they've done very well for a first try. One reason for their success is that romantic-comedies require strong characters, and the Coen brothers always populate their films with memorable characters.
This is also the first time the Coen brothers have made a film that is directed toward a mass audience. This helps explain why "Intolerable Cruelty" is a romantic comedy that was scripted by someone else. I do hope that they've succeeded in finding their audience for this film, as I highly recommend it and all other works by the Coen Brothers.