O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director:Joel Coen
Writers:Ethan and Joel Coen
Touchstone Pictures; PG-13; 143 minutes
Cast:George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson

It is a synopsis only the Coen Brothers could create: a Depression-era musical comedy starring Homeric convicts and a black man who sold his soul to the devil. Well, others might be able to write such a synopsis, but only the Coen Brothers could transform it into a successful full-length feature. Their trademark quirkiness is so compelling because, unlike most movies, oddity is not used sparingly to spice up a character or two. On the contrary, their weird, unique vision takes center stage and thereby lays foundation for a world warped into believability. What the Coens create is both wildly offbeat and constantly consistent with its own strange logic.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? opens on the chain gang with Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) and his partners in jailbreak, played by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. What follows is loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey: a loopy journey packed with subplots, knuckleheads, and outrageous humor. Particularly enjoyable is their evocation of 1930s Americana. It's a land of cornpone prophets, greasy hair products, inspired folk music and KKK rallies. While the brothers' mix 'n match zaniness is at an all time high, O Brother may be their most predictable work thus far. The nasty poetic surprise of Fargo is absent, as is the grinning existential paralysis of Barton Fink. Thankfully, the Coen Brothers couldn't be predictable even if they wanted to; there's stubborn novelty in silly voices, an enraged John Goodman, and cold-blooded men tracking down goofballs. O Brother ranks as one of the year's most original films.

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