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O Brother,
Where Art Thou?

Starring George Clooney, John Goodman, John Turturro
Screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based on by The Odyssey by Homer
Directed by Joel Coen

IN SHORT: yee-haw! [Rated PG-13 for some violence and language. 143 minutes]

Even though it cost us a relationship, we'll pretend that The Big Lebowski never existed. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have righted their ship, sobered up <g> and looked way back for the inspiration for their latest film, which stars George Clooney (click for StarTalk) in the first of that star's movies that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. The Coens took their inspiration for this film from Homer's The Odyssey, which you can/may have read in college. We recognized a couple of points but, as always we don't compare to Source Material. You can read Homer on your own.

Mississippi, 1937. The sound of men working on a chain gang. Singing those deep south spirituals. That just the start of a marvelous American based soundtrack of blues, bluegrass and gospel music that fill this film, much of it material Alan Lomax lugged his disc recorder through the hinterlands to record back in the Great Depression. Twang with a capital "T". Three men escape the chain gang. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) has told tales of a $1.2 million dollar treasure, booty from armored truck heist buried in a location soon to be underwater. Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) is the short guy in the middle. Pete (John Turturro), on the other end, has leadership questions about which of the three should be head of the newly formed gang. And while they work this out, they hitch a ride on a rail car with a blind man who prophesies that they will find treasure but it may not be the treasure they seek.

Freedom being the first priority, the trio ensconce themselves with a cousin of Pete's, lose the chains, get some clothes and grub, and find themselves facing down the barrel of a machine gun wielded by a sunglass wearing sherriff. We won't go into the details of the escape but from there on in, the law is on their tail. Needing money, they cut a record at local radio station WEZY, which is played on the air by the state's media friendly Governor, "Pappy" O"Daniel (Charles Durning), himself in the middle of a down and dirty reelection campaign.

The boys don't care about the record. They got ten bucks each for it and made the friendship of a blues singer found waiting at a crossroads, Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King). And while this Gang of Four comes apart and regroups in different ways, encountering Baptists, Politicians, a Gangster nicknamed "Baby Face," (Michael Badalucco) a huge honkin' Bible salesman (John Goodman) and the Klan -- not to mention the wife (Holly Hunter) offspring of one of the men -- you've got more story than you can shake a stick at. If you can lift a log, have at it.

The characters are all outrageous. The situations get more out of hand and when they reach the point where you think all that can be done has been done . . . something else happens. We're exhausted just thinking about it.

At their best, and their best is still Fargo, the Coens always manage to come up with a couple of scenes that will linger in the memory long after you've paid the price. Both are in the teevee spot and both still work even if you've seen 'em a zillion times -- Clooney himself says his aunt Rosemary got all the singing genes in the family, and he's right <vbg>.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, he would have paid...


A quick historical note: We looked at "Tommy Johnson" and wondered why he wasn't "Robert," the legendary blues singer at the crossroads so we asked the Coens about it. Turns out there was a blues singer named Tommy Johnson, a sterno drinking fiend with enough legend to get his name in a book.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.