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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.64%
Worth A Look32.1%
Average: 28.4%
Pretty Bad: 13.58%
Total Crap: 17.28%

6 reviews, 45 user ratings

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Intolerable Cruelty
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by Rob Gonsalves

"The Coens strike again with a suave screwball anti-romantic comedy."
4 stars

'Intolerable Cruelty' is about two sharks falling for each other, but not after shedding some blood first. This is fine screwball material for Joel and Ethan Coen, who dusted off a script by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone and ran with it. The result isn't as organic a Coen film as their others, but it earns its place in their portfolio as a comic essay on the follies of love, trust, and the illusion of control.

Don't make too much of the fact that the material didn't originate with them (it never stopped anyone from liking any of their other movies that owed their structures to Hammett, Chandler, Homer, etc.), or that Brian Grazer produced it (Joel Silver bankrolled The Hudsucker Proxy -- what's your point?). This isn't a whole lot like any previous Coen film, but none of their previous films are much like each other, either. When approaching a new Coen effort, it's wise to leave your expectations at the door. This is the Coens dabbling in the mainstream, and bending it to their will.

Teaming for the second time with the Coens, George Clooney enters the picture teeth-first -- literally. As Miles Massey, an egotistical divorce lawyer who prides himself on winning big settlements for irredeemable clients, Clooney gives full rein to the old-school suavity that links him to the movie stars of an earlier age. Yet Miles is essentially a fool, with a nagging fear that there must be more to life than obscene wealth. Perhaps love is what's missing -- but Miles sees the wreckage of love every day; not only that, he profits handsomely from it. He can't see himself with a trophy wife, or with a sweet, trusting woman with a fraction of his smarts. So when he meets professional divorcée Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he's undone. Marylin is in the process of extricating herself from an idiotic real-estate tycoon (Edward Herrmann, having fun being randy); she looks forward to the "independence and freedom" that her ex's wealth will bring her. We sense that it's not just about freedom for her, though; it's more about the thrill of the hunt. Zeta-Jones, as usual, slinks into each scene with the confidence of a woman who knows she can make men sit up and beg.

The Coens don't sully Marylin's glamour -- they need it to keep the machine rolling. Miles is infatuated with her as a package -- beauty plus a diabolical sense of male weakness. He's been looking for a challenge, and she's it. They both know all the tricks, and the Coens' unequalled skill with dialogue comes out in the verbal sparring between the two. At heart, this is a classic Coen film, obsessed with crime -- the glee of getting away with something. By the time attempted murder enters the plot, we recognize that it's the logical extension of the characters' ruthlessness. These are not nice people, though they're softened by a sort of wistful awareness that kindness might exist out there, somewhere.

With the possible exception of Paul Adelstein as Wrigley, Miles' mushy-hearted assistant (who bawls at weddings), everyone in the movie is circling the drain of ambition. We meet Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer), whose specialty is catching wandering spouses in flagrante delicto on his camcorder; and Geoffrey Rush in a farcical turn as a TV producer with brass taste; and Julia Duffy as Marylin's mummified divorcée friend, with a 46-room mansion and a bleeding ulcer; and especially Billy Bob Thornton enjoying himself to the hilt as a naïve oil billionaire who becomes the next patsy on Marylin's list. These actors perform in shorthand, functioning as satellites on the margins of the divorce universe, where Miles and Marylin are god and goddess. Eventually, the Coens break away from the swank atmosphere and give us such oddities as a quickie Scottish wedding performed in kilts and a hit man named Wheezy Joe. I wonder if what bothers some Coen fans about Intolerable Cruelty is that, unlike most of their films (which either stay lowlife or mix lowlife and the elite), it stays pretty much elite for most of the movie, and the main characters are comfortable there.

Miles, for one, is getting uncomfortable there, and he has a change of heart, though the Coens have the wit to satirize it as the smitten grandstanding it is. Soon enough, Miles is back in the moral grime, and the plot twists and double-crosses come fast and heavy. Much of Intolerable Cruelty will reward multiple viewings; lately, the Coens haven't been making movies that even their longtime fans will instantly embrace -- not everyone dug O Brother, Where Art Thou?, for instance, or The Man Who Wasn't There.

Never let it be said that the Coens are content to rest on their laurels, or averse to risk. At its core, 'Intolerable Cruelty' is an anti-romantic comedy, in which, even if the leads wind up together, we're not sure they're meant for each other, even if they do deserve each other.

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originally posted: 01/21/07 16:03:23
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User Comments

9/17/08 Stu Some good dialouge and Clooneys charm make this Hollywoodised Coen Bros. film watchable. 3 stars
11/17/06 Alyssa Hale Total Crap! Nothing more to say! 1 stars
3/22/06 R.W.Welch Passable comedy but lacks the early Coen off-the-wall flair. 3 stars
12/30/05 Agent Sands An immense amount of charm from the two stars, but the Coens are beginning a descent. 4 stars
8/14/05 Charlene Javier What a disappointment! 2 stars
8/01/05 Bad Critic Who really gives a crap about a couple spoiled retards who only care about money? 2 stars
4/18/05 Jeff Anderson Has it's cruel mind in the gutter. A sad & pathetic waste of time & unfunny to boot. 1 stars
12/09/04 Kristina Williams Clooney's smooth a hell 4 stars
11/26/04 alien assassin I've been workin' on the railroad !!! 4 stars
10/24/04 NJ Cup Winner 95-00-03 Clooney is doing Cary Grant, and that's quite a feat. Great flick! 5 stars
10/04/04 Josh Standlee I laughed so hard that at times I was fighting for air! Hilarious! 5 stars
9/26/04 VIctor Not a fan of Clooney but he's very good in this usually-funny satire; CZJ just okay 4 stars
9/05/04 psycho dwarf Like bike-race spectators you wait for long periods til the fun parts come & go too quickly 3 stars
8/19/04 Kaylee Lover Give me a break, a wasted 1.5 hours 2 stars
7/24/04 Jerry&Joan An unbelievable waste of time-This can only happen when actors are under contact. 1 stars
7/24/04 Sandy Turynowicz lots of laughs 4 stars
4/18/04 Martin Meant to be an over the top caricature. Most don't get it. Very funny if you are cynical. 5 stars
4/06/04 Agent Sands Story gets pretty contrived, but Clooney is one hilarious dude. Coens are slowly decreasing 3 stars
3/28/04 HorrorScribbler Not top-notch Coen brothers, but still pretty good. 4 stars
2/22/04 Mindy This movie was by far the biggest waste of my time in a while! I should've been paid. 1 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva funny 3 stars
1/23/04 Chloe Brody A bit of fun 4 stars
11/27/03 Wendy Sue VERY funny in it's odd Coen way, just not alot of depth 4 stars
11/12/03 Helen Bradley slow pace 2 stars
11/12/03 Chris I like it but the film tired too much and we never feel Clooney and Zeta-Jones romance. 3 stars
11/09/03 Eddie Fan Worst movie ever made. Fucking boring waste of money. Zeta Jones can't act! 1 stars
11/07/03 Cameron Slick While not one of the Coen's better work, it's a worthwile entertaining goofball romantic. 4 stars
11/04/03 John Bale Cary Grant like Clooney and stunning Zeta Jones mix in Coen Bros magic. Much fun ! 5 stars
11/03/03 wrob Occasionally funny, but mediocre overall 2 stars
10/31/03 alien assassin Anyone who calls this film crap must be joking. Why don't you grow out of "Jackass" !!!!! 5 stars
10/31/03 Catherine Zeta Jones thinks her Welsh shit doesn't stink! (I can say that because I'm Welsh too.) 3 stars
10/31/03 Natasha Bly Guys in cast do best to pull humor out of harrowing subject; CZJ is her usual gigabrat. 3 stars
10/24/03 Jason King Found Clooney's mugging hilarious in its overstatement. One of the best movies of the year. 5 stars
10/23/03 DeeDee I watched it today and it was a waste of my money. It sucked big time. 1 stars
10/20/03 TheOthersFan if nothing else, a refreshing departure from the conventional romantic comedy formula 4 stars
10/19/03 Titus Not a worthy Cohen bros outing, but the stars are fun to watch. Worth matinee prices. 3 stars
10/17/03 no2coen Run! Run away. 1 stars
10/17/03 cpbjr Worth watching CZJ and GC 3 stars
10/16/03 Angry Black Man beautiful looking cast, but so-so movie. 3 stars
10/14/03 Lord Jiggy Enjoyed it a lot, a nice surprise. Clooney worked for me, so did the weird characters. 4 stars
10/14/03 harpoonflyby funnier than all hell. story sucked 4 stars
10/13/03 Ida A cute movie 4 stars
10/12/03 KCobain Horrid 1 stars
10/11/03 Michael Fantastically charming and wacky rom-com with an edge, & Clooney's best performance ever 5 stars
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  10-Oct-2003 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2004



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