O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter
Director: Joel Coen (and Ethan Coen)
The writing, directing, and producing team of Joel and Ethan Coen present this picaresque comedy (inspired in part by Homer’s The Odyssey) set in the Deep South during the Depression. Three convicts including suave and fancy-talking Everett Ulysses McGill (Clooney), dim-witted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), and excitable Pete (John Turturro) escape from a prison chain gang. Everett knows where $1.2 million is hidden that’s theirs for the taking; however, a stranger soon warns them that they’ll find treasure, but not the sort they’re looking for. As the trio travel towards their goal, they happen upon a gluttonous bible salesman, Big Dan Teague (John Goodman); meet up with Baby Face Nelson as he robs a bank; encounter three Sirens doing their washing; run into Everett’s estranged wife Penny (Holly Hunter); find themselves in the middle of a heated political campaign between two opposing candidates; and even find time to make a hit record as The Soggy Bottom Boys.
Why Should I watch it?
If you have ever seen a film from the Coen brothers, including the brilliant The Big Lebowski, the genius that is Fargo and the amazing Blood Simple, then you will enjoy this movie. If you haven’t seen any of their films, then do so. The brothers have produced over a dozen films across a variety of genres while maintaining their distinct off-beat flavour across all of their projects and even their lower-rated films are more entertaining than most.
O Brother, Where Art Thou is a modern satirical adventure movie that can be taken as pure entertainment or as a modern piece of art given its origins as an adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. The Odyssey itself is a grand, non-linear poem that details the journey of Odysseus as he attempts to travel home, coming into contact with a variety of creatures and characters along the way. The film cleverly blends elements of the poem into its story, such as John Goodman’s one-eyed salesman representing the Cyclops. The style of the film, almost dreamlike in its use of digital colour correction which provides an autumnal, sepia-tinted finish, draws you into the plot and allows for the oft bizarre events of the story to be readily accepted by the viewer.
Although much credit should be given to the Coen brothers, who directed, wrote and produced the movie, the film would be nothing without its cast which doesn’t have a weak link in sight. George Clooney has dabbled in as many different genres as the Coen brothers themselves and wonderfully leads the cast as the vain, Dapper Dan pomade-obsessed Ulysses, a fast-talking criminal convicted of practising law without a licence. Clooney looks like he is having the time of his life and his enthusiasm is palpable, carrying the audience through the wonderfully weird world created on screen.
Refusing to be outdone by Clooney, Turturro and Nelson make a brilliant double act as the dull but likeable Pete and Delmar whose adventures include baptism, seduction by sirens and (apparently) Pete being turned into a frog. Meanwhile all of the bit-players perform well in a film that any actor could be lost in, yet all get their moments to shine, particularly John Goodman and Holly Hunter. Goodman initially plays on his normal friendly persona before revealing himself as a rather ugly character while Hunter is enchanting as the estranged wife of Clooney, delivering every line in a charming (and often scathing) southern accent.
The music used throughout the film is also noteworthy, not only in establishing the setting of 1937 rural Mississippi but also as a character itself. The soundtrack was actually recorded before filming began and musician T-Bone Burnett actually worked with the Coens during the writing phase of production. The music is generally period-specific folk music and touches upon many sub-genres of music typically identified with the American South including gospel, swing, country and blues. The escaped trio accidentally record a hit song as The Soggy Bottom Boys titled ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ which became something of a hit and the voices of the dubbed trio were provided by singer Dan Tyminska, Nashville songwriter Harley Allen and the Nashville Bluegrass band’s Pat Enright. The song can be found below but a word of warning- it is annoying catchy;
There is much that can be taken by comparing the movie to Homer’s Odyssey for those who have read or wish to read the classic work, however the film can also be accepted as a fun, jovial adventure that will make you smile throughout. The film cleverly balances the fine line between in-jokes and references for those in the know and simply being an entertaining piece of expertly crafted film. Finally, as always, here’s the trailer;
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