Oh Brother, Where
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
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.