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Oh Brother, Where Art Thou

How did the Coen brothers get so damn good? Who else could have translated Homer's Odyssey into a story of escaped convicts in Mississippi during the great depression?

The Coen brothers are American filmmakers. All of their stories deal with real American people (even if they happen to be immigrant gangsters as in Miller's Crossing). Since all of their stories deal with people who must endure several trials while trying to get what they want accomplished, it isn't that strange that they would turn to the Odyssey for inspiration for their latest film, O, Brother Where Art Thou?

Three prisoners have broken from their chain gang. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) leads Pete (John Turturro, a Coen brothers staple) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) towards the treasure that landed him in prison. Their journey begins with a blind prophet on the railroad tracks who gives them a ride as they missed an easy train ride. The three try to find refuge with Pete's backwoods kin. But the law is never far behind and it's hard to know whom to trust when anyone could turn them in for a bounty.

The Coens continue with their fascination of good and evil, reminiscent of Barton Fink. Everett, the intellectual hillbilly ("the only one capable of abstract thought"), scoffs at the other's attempts at finding salvation when the happen upon Baptists. Along the way they pick up a blues guitar player at a crossroads who has just sold his soul to the devil in order to learn how to play guitar (Robert Johnson anyone?). As it turns out, the devil himself is also hot on the trail of these three.

The Coen Brothers deliver what you would expect from their movies - intelligent dialogue with strange characters and situations. The three travelers run into plenty of eclectic characters on the way. Along with their hitchhiking guitar player, Tommy (Chris Thomas King), the foursome record a song, "A Man of Constant Sorrow", at the local radio station in hopes of getting some money. They run into the Mississippi governor (Charles Durning) at the radio station about to broadcast his show across the state. Homer Stokes (Wayne Duval), champion of the little man with the dwarf to prove it, is challenging the governor for his position. They manage to hitch another ride from bank robber George "Babyface" Nelson. Their journey just gets more complicated as they run into the KKK, some scheming sirens and a one-eyed Bible salesman Big Dan Teague (John Goodman, another Coen Brothers favorite).

George Clooney showed some acting ability beyond the southern accent, using his comic talents rather than falling into his typical leading man character. John Turturro gives a good performance as the hot-tempered Pete. Tim Blake Nelson stands out as the hilarious Delmar, a simple, well-meaning hillbilly caught up in this whole journey.

This latest film expands the Coen brothers's universe. This movie takes on the style of their other period pieces Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy. After Miller's Crossing, the Coens started using Roger Deakens as their cinematographer. While questioning the beauty of Miller's Crossing could conceivably get you assaulted if you were in earshot of a film school, the use of Deakens has made for some beautiful looking films. O Brother is full of rich scenery in parts of the South where you wouldn't expect to find it.

The soundtrack is surprising as well. Country is one of the most common exceptions in people's music tastes (northerners, anyway), however, this movie is full of old, bluesy country tunes. It further enriches the aesthetic of the film.

O Brother Where Art Thou? is entertaining for all and it doesn't disappoint Coen brothers fans. Check it out.


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