Film: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Film:

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: Walt Disney Video

Only Joel and Ethan Coen, the fraternal director and producer team behind art-house hits such as The Big Lebowski and Fargo and masters of quirky and ultra-stylish genre subversion, would dare nick the plot line of Homer’s Odyssey for a comic picaresque saga about three cons on the run in 1930s Mississippi. Our wandering hero in this case is one Ulysses Everett McGill, a slick-tongued wise guy with a thing about hair pomade (George Clooney, blithely sending up his own dapper image) who talks his chain-gang buddies (Coen-movie regular John…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Only Joel and Ethan Coen, the fraternal director and producer team behind art-house hits such as The Big Lebowski and Fargo and masters of quirky and ultra-stylish genre subversion, would dare nick the plot line of Homer’s Odyssey for a comic picaresque saga about three cons on the run in 1930s Mississippi. Our wandering hero in this case is one Ulysses Everett McGill, a slick-tongued wise guy with a thing about hair pomade (George Clooney, blithely sending up his own dapper image) who talks his chain-gang buddies (Coen-movie regular John Turturro and newcomer Tim Blake Nelson) into lighting out after some buried loot he claims to know of. En route they come up against a prophetic blind man on a railroad truck, a burly, one-eyed baddie (the ever-magnificent John Goodman), a trio of sexy singing ladies, a blues guitarist who’s sold his soul to the devil, a brace of crooked politicos on the stump, a manic-depressive bank robber, and—well, you get the idea. Into this, their most relaxed film yet, the Coens have tossed a beguiling ragbag of inconsequential situations, a wealth of looping, left-field dialogue, and a whole stash of gags both verbal and visual. O Brother (the title’s lifted from Preston Sturges’s classic 1941 comedy Sullivan’s Travels) is furthermore graced with glowing, burnished photography from Roger Deakins and a masterly soundtrack from T-Bone Burnett that pays loving homage to American ‘30s folk styles—blues, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, and more. And just to prove that the brothers haven’t lost their knack for bad-taste humor, we get a Ku Klux Klan rally choreographed like a cross between a Nuremberg rally and a Busby Berkeley musical. —Philip Kemp

Barnes and Noble

Sibling filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowksi) enhanced their well-deserved reputation for comedic ingenuity with this rib-tickling and extremely loose adaptation of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey. O Brother chronicles the picaresque adventures of three chain-gang escapees traversing Depression-era Mississippi in search of treasure (the title is that of the social issues picture the director wants to


+make in Presten Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels). George Clooney (who positively radiates star quality), John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson play the hapless ex-cons who encounter oracles, sirens, and even a Cyclops (John Goodman sporting an eye patch) before achieving unexpected and improbable stardom at the end of their journey. The Coens chart this bizarre voyage with customary meticulousness, replicating 1930s Mississippi and its inhabitants down to the tiniest detail. As always with these filmmakers, the supporting players are perfectly cast, especially Charles Durning, Holly Hunter, and Goodman—the latter in a terrific turn as a psychotic Bible salesman. Yet the movie’s most effective “character” may well be its musical score, an assortment of bluegrass standards and slavery-era spirituals that set the period and enhance the narrative. Inventive and unpredictable (even to those who remember their Homer), O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a tuneful funfest that represents the Coens at the top of their game. They, along with major cast members, are interviewed for a making-of featurette included on the DVD, which also features a documentary on the digital enhancement technology used during the movie’s postproduction period, comparisons of script and storyboards with the finished film, and a “Man of Constant Sorrow” music video. Ed Hulse

Related Works

Album:O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Original Soundtrack

T-Bone Burnett, Various Artists

The best soundtracks are like movies for the ears, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? joins the likes of Saturday Night Fever and The Harder They Come as cinematic pinnacles of song. The music from the Coen brothers’ Depression-era film taps into the source from which the purest strains of country, blues, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music flow. Producer T Bone Burnett enlists the voices of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and kindred spirits for performances of traditional material, in arrangements that are either a…

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