O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 01/08/01 16:48:50

"Aw, hell, I don't know."
3 stars (Average)

“Great horny-toads! What the sam-hell was THAT all about?” That’s what I done felt ‘bout dat latest Coen Brothers movie. Aw, shucks, I suppose I should’ve read up on the “Odyssey,” by the Homer fella. ‘Cause damn hell if I’m gonna figure this one out by the end of the day. No, siree, I reckon I won’t.

Now, that’s not to say I done not had a good time, or nothin’. Oh, I would have to say that the George Clooney fella handled himself and the lip-synchin’ with all the confidence and charisma of a sharp-shootin, straight-walkin ex-con-man with a heart of shiny goldness. And that there John Turturro disappeared beneath the skin of his wacky character like a dab of greasy brylcreem being combed through a slick head o’ hair.

But I’ll be god-damned if I can figure out the rest of the damn movie. I done felt hornswaggled by it. I think I may have to see it again just to see if it turns out differently the next time. I done read the little paragraphical—what do they call it?—synopses o’ the plot, but all it told me was that it would be about three escaped criminals from a chain gang who run from the law and have some adventures. It didn’t tell me nothin’ ‘bout no musical numbers involving the KKK. I also didn’t expect to be smittened by them three sirens by the lake, the ones who turned John Turturro into a “horny-toad.”

Now, of course, I done saw the Coen’s other pictures, The Hudsucker Proxy and Barton Fink, two other movies that had that surreal element o’ surprise. O Brother done felt like a calculated exercise in excessive surrealistic force, if I may be so blunt and bold. Characters come in, act all crazy, and run out of the story without having much impact on the plot, since, well, there really isn’t one, except that maybe these chain-gangers might become famous with a toe-tappin,’ whip-crackin’ taste of Mississippi bluegrass as they team up with a colored fella and become The Soggy Bottom Boys. That, and the fact that Clooney is looking for his wife who considers him dead and gone, just like in “The Odyssey,” or so I’ve been told to reckon.

But something seems fishy ‘bout this whole thing. Charles Durning plays a politician who can’t seem to get his men to work with him cooperatatively. I didn’t really give a high-holler. And a cycloptic John Goodman shows up, preaches the Bible, and then beats the hell out of Clooney and the other outlaw, the boyishly funny Tim Blake Nelson. Goodman leaves, and then the singin’ outlaws go off and meet someone else wild and wooly.

That reminds me (and don’t ask me why it reminds me), but all you of the vegetarian persuasion or the hug-a-ferret coalition or the…For all of you who done love your animals, this movie might not be to your satisfaction. I seen a cow get hurt. I seen a toad get…killed. It might make you flinch a pinch. But I couldn’t help but laugh when Tim Blake Nelson kept offering Clooney a bite of his gopher. I’m sorry, but I just had to hoot.

One thing you gotta love ‘bout this here movie is its music. I loved listening to this movie, and I sure done loved it when the characters sang for no damn reason. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear a song. Some scenes, especially the scene with the beautiful sirens, work wonders simply because they’re all singin’. T-Bone Burnett supervised all the music comprised for this movie, which gives it great atmosphere with its mix of gospel, folk and country. Not that Hollywood country neither. Seems like there should have been a cider-jug band playing in the bottom corner of the screen the whole damn time.

It done feel ironic that Clooney tells his men that he should lead the way since he possesses the capacity for abstract thought. Well, no wide-eyed-wonders the journey turns out the way it does. You have to have that capacity in order to follow your nostril into these strange, bohemian-like situations and funny business. It’s almost as if Clooney appointed himself the mouthpiece of the Coens, and their lack of emotional depth (this time ‘round).

I dunno. I really dunno. I watched the movie. I done laughed. I done felt charmed by its utter disregard of common sense and traditional storytelling. I done knew when I walked into the theater that it would not be like ordinary movies, but more like one of them Coen Brothers movies. The ads sure looked interesting. I think this here is one of them movies that will be studied and better-understood years from now, or with repeated watchins. But I dunno. O, Brother, I really, really dunno.

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