O Brother, Where Art Thou?


They have a plan, but not a clue.


Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 2½ Stars

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the tale of three escaped convicts set in the depression era South. By now, everyone knows that the story parallels Homer's Odyssey; so the audience gets a strange mixture of 1930's movie clichés and ancient literature references.

Except the clichés aren't really clichés because this is a Coen brother movie. Take for example the scene where our convicts steal a pie that is left cooling on a windowsill. And then one of them sneaks into the picture and leaves some money on the sill with a rock on top.

But, the problem is that the scene with the pie isn't really that funny. I kept wondering whether some of the unfunny moments in the movie were scenes I didn't remember from the Odyssey. I kept wondering if Joel and Ethan felt handcuffed by the source material and felt obliged to include certain scenes.

Take, for example, the dull subplot involving a gubernatorial race. Who needs it? I know this had to have come from the Odyssey, because Joel and Ethan are too funny for this material.

Don't get me wrong the movie has its laughs. Most of the good stuff is either a sight gag (like the cooked gopher on a stick) or running jokes like George Clooney's "hair pomade."

Some of the performances are good. Of the three convicts I was most impressed with Tim Blake Nelson who plays Delmar. Clooney, however, is miscast if only because he's not good enough of an actor to be in a Coen brother movie. Clooney's character is sort of confusing anyway. At times he seems incredibly dense. He just can't figure out that a bible salesman isn't really a bible salesman. Yet, he has a vocabulary approaching that of Norman Mailer.

I was also disappointed with the soundtrack. O Brother claims to be a musical (and there are a lot of songs). The first song is the funniest. It's about a sort of Shangri La for convicts where all the cops have "wooden legs" and all the prison bars are made of tin. Also, the number "sung" by Clooney is great (except we hear it twice as if there aren't enough good songs to go around). I also expected all original music. Instead we hear "You are My Sunshine" at least twice.

O Brother, Where Art Thou has all of the quirkiness of Raising Arizona, but little of the glee. I will say that Coen brother movies are usually better the second time around. The first time I saw Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski, I was underwhelmed. They proved later to stand up pretty well. Here is my ranking of Joel and Ethan's films:

1. Fargo
2. Blood Simple
3. Raising Arizona
4. Miller's Crossing
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Barton Fink
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8. The Hudsucker Proxy

Note: Number 2 and 3 could be interchanged as well as numbers 5 and 6 depending on your mood.