O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) — The Odyssey via Coen Brothers

“We’re in a tight spot!”

DnaError’s rating: A music video from 1930.

DnaError’s review: *sigh* Yet again, here’s another movie that puts George Clooney in a big fake beard, hair net, and dirty clothes while singing Bluegrass into a can in Depression-era Mississippi. Can’t Hollywood think of anything original?

Sarcasm and a silly title aside, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is another entry into the surrealistic pantheon of Coen brother movies. I love the Cohen brother’s movie to begin with, bizarre and funny imaginative movies with a striking visual look (they look too artistic to be real but are real enough not to be cartoony) and witty, sly sense of humor.

This particular entry tells the yarn of three convicts in Mississippi who escape the chain gang in order to find $1.2 million hidden out in the backwoods. On the road, they encounter an endless stream of references to 1930s America, clever allusions to The Odyssey, and become drowned in bluegrass music and old blues chants.

While not a laugh-riot, I found myself at least smiling the whole movie through. Part of the fun of the movie is the unexpected nature of how the sharp plot twists and turns on itself, so I’m not gonna ruin it by telling you. The actors do a great job at mimicking the quirky nature of the movie and for once we don’t have a cast that looks like it was pulled out of GQ. (Clooney gets his face, among other parts, very beaten up numerous times.)

So what else can I say? O Brother stacks up nicely against other Cohen Brother movies like Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Blood Simple. It’s a kooky, strange little movie made to entertain with odd characters, well-developed plot and masterful camerawork/art direction. A break from the mind-numbing blandness of most movies.

Andie’s rating: You can talk, you can talk, you can bicker, you can talk, you can bicker bicker bicker, you can talk, you can talk, you can talk talk talk talk, bicker bicker bicker, you can talk all you wanna but it’s different than it was…

Andie’s review: Usually, George Clooney really annoys me. I haven’t really liked him in anything since ER. However, he was perfect as the fast-talking, intelligent, slicker ‘an spit Ulysses Everett McGill. He was also surrounded by a fantastic cast and it all came together in a wonderfully wacky adventure.

Being as literary as I am, I have read the Odyssey and thought the Coen Brothers did a good job of taking a (in my opinion) fairly boring old Greek story and making it so funny and light-hearted. Maybe they could try to tackle Lysistrata next, or even Oedipus. Imagine the fun the Coens would have with women who go on a sex strike to end a war, or a man who finds out he’s been sleeping with his mommy and stabs his own eyes out. Hilarious, I tell you!

Anyway, O Brother fits in perfectly with what I’ve come to expect from the Coens. I didn’t laugh out loud a lot, but I was always entertained. The movie did get a few good laughs from me, like when Everett and Delmar get yanked off the train like toddlers on their mother’s leash when Pete can’t run fast enough to catch up. That was funny enough to make me rewind and watch it again.

I also love the witticism that comes out of Everett’s mouth, his dialogue was nothing short of inspired. I also found myself half-laughing, half-wincing at the cow part. It was gross and funny all at the same time, like the wood chipper scene from Fargo. By far one of the funniest parts is when Everett gets in a fight with Penny’s fiancée. They look so comically cartoonish, it cracked me up. I also never thought a scene featuring KKK members would make me laugh so hard.

I don’t know how a movie can be low-brow and intellectual humor all at the same time, but it came together really well. It is another fine addition to the Coen Brothers library. And the soundtrack is really good as well, it has a lot of old bluegrass songs. I really like “Man of Constant Sorrow,” that song kicks butt. Especially when they sing it in their beards and dance around like ninnies. Good stuff.

Clare’s review: I’ve seen every movie the Coen brothers have made. There’s not a bad one in the bunch. In fact, all of them, from Blood Simple to O Brother are movies I would gladly recommend to anyone. It took me a long time to see O Brother and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I guess for some reason the previews for it didn’t really strike me as being all that great. Since the Coen’s have, in my opinion, a perfect track record for making amazingly well told original movies, I was nervous that they’d finally made a stinker. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.

O Brother is engaging, entertaining, enjoyable and a whole bunch of other good words that start with the letter “e.” George Clooney, who, like Andie, I pretty much dislike, was great in this as were the rest of the myriad of cast members. Highlights for me included Stephen Root (an unsung comedic genius in my opinion) as the “Radio Station Man” and Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar (the lone Soggy Bottom Boy to do his own singing).

All of the Coen movies are visually striking in one regard or another. O Brother is one of the most visually rich films I’ve seen in a long time. The DVD has an entire section devoted to the computer enhancements used in the entire film to make even minute details specific to the dry, desolate feel the film makers were shooting for. It’s breathtaking in a lot of respects. So even if you hate everything else about this movie, it’s worth seeing just to look at.

Rent it tonight.

PoolMan’s rating: I’ve never used Dapper Dan, and having seen Clooney’s greasy hair, I’m sure I never will.

PoolMan’s review: I’ve got a confession, and I’m sure in some people’s eyes, this is worthy of death. At the time of this writing, I’ve never seen any Coens Brothers movie other than this one. I never saw Fargo. I caught a few minutes of The Big Lebowski. Raising Arizona remains to be viewed. Not that I’ve actively avoided them, I just find that although everyone seems to rave about Coen movies, they’re not the kind of films everyone unanimously agrees on when you’re trying to decide on something in the video store. They just never seem to come up.

But I’ve been actively meaning to see O Brother, Where Art Thou? for some time now… since its theatrical release, actually. The whole concept of placing a classic story into an alien environment (and by “alien” I mean different, not covered in green goo and space marines, Dna!) always strikes me as cool. Kenneth Branagh’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, while critically panned, was certainly ambitious, cause it’s not every day you see Shakespeare set to the swinging ’30s, and I am looking forward to that, too.

But back to the point. While I don’t actively dislike George Clooney, any movie that makes him look this good without exploiting his usual talents (smirking, looking up with his chin dropped, winking) certainly must be worth a look. He’s constantly having fun with the script, and you can tell. As the charming but clueless leader of the chain gang escapees, he’s at all times frustrated, amused, and distinctly calm. Even when the giant “cyclops” looms over him with a large piece of tree (having just clubbed Delmar), he simply asks what’s going on in hopes there’s a way out that involves jawin’ it out over a can of Dapper Dan. Which of course, there never is when you’re dealing with reincarnated single eyed Greek monsters.

The movie as a whole has a very patchwork feeling to it, but that’s the nature of the beast. The original Odyssey story is basically a series of encounters that Ulysses has with this monster, that king, these people… so the film mirrors it with a similar episodic feel. Every five or ten minutes there’s a new story. But just when you start to think that this might be too frustrating to deal with, it all ties up in the end, and the individual storylines finally feel whole. Very cool. And there are some classic laughing-out-loud moments that you just have to see, along with some great one-liners.

O Brother isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, but just like Everret, I spent most of the movie with a knowing grin on my face and feeling of satisfaction. Now all I’ve gotta do is go rent Fargo so everyone’ll get off my back…

Justin’s rating: Hey, it’s a party review! Everybody who is ANYbody has showed up!

Justin’s review: Coens brothers films are mighty tough to put a finger on. Sometimes I try other body parts as well, but it just never seems to work as well. These guys specialize in making films that can only be described as off, in the sense that you’d be off if you hit yourself in the temple with a tack hammer five or six times. Some people really like their movies. Some people throw pig’s blood at the screen and try to exorcise the demons within. Those people might have internal issues to deal with, but I’m not a psychiatrist.

Me? Well, I’ve always been split on their filmmaking style. For instance, I loved Raising Arizona with its cheerful black humor, and Fargo got extremely enjoyable once I realized that the woodchipper was a metaphor for laughter. But then The Big Lebowski came to town and sucked out my immortal soul, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since.

You know how soft drink companies are completely neurotic, right? They have a solid, proven product, a [pick one: soda, pop, carbonated whoozit] that three billion people drink every day. But success doesn’t seem to suit them, so they gather together and come up with a way to take this winning product and make it completely different. So we end up with New Coke, Crystal Pepsi, that Lemon Pepsi that wigged me out, and Code Red Mountain Dew. Listen, I think I speak for the public when I say that I expect all things Mountain Dew to look like urine, and it’s disturbing to see them try and trick me into drinking bloody pee instead. My life is already complicated enough as it is.

Well, this same sort of fiddling with a successful formula is what the Coen brothers are all about, which shows up stronger in each new film they release. See: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

People just love to be in on a literary reference when they can, which is why so many people flocked to A.I. to see the Pinocchio reference. Yes, I know I spelled that little wooden devil wrong, but let’s see YOU try. O Brother’s hook is when people see that it’s some sort of twisted version of the Odyssey with morons, and suddenly it is elevated to an instant classic in their eyes. George Clooney and two equal dimwits traipse around the south during the depression, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, and singing a lot of folksy songs. Now here’s another much-touted hook of the movie, the music. People are just raving about the retro soundtrack, and if this is your sort of thing, then you’ll be in heaven. Me, I was thinking that synthesizers and non-yodeling lyrics could not come soon enough.

In the fact that O Brother creates a uniquely flavored world, complete with yucky hair cream and fancy boxing, I tip my hat. Very atmospheric. Ooh and Aah, please. Yet there came a point in the film, a point that I would describe as “five minutes in,” in which I became bored. I found my eyes drifting away to watch an ant, or would pick at a scab, or would count the tiny holes on my television screen to stay interested. I guess it’s like watching the Three Stooges. If you’re in the mood for slapstick and loud hooting, this’ll give you your fill. But if you’re not, all it is is a bunch of noise that’s keeping you from going to sleep.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s