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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Intolerable Cruelty

This will not be a thorough review of the 2003 movie, since I actually sat down and watched it weeks ago. I have been meaning, though, to slot it into my listing of the Coen Brothers movie in order of my preference for them. On the Slate lists which inspired mine, Intolerable Cruelty, The Man Who Wasn't There, and The Ladykillers were fairly anonymously the bottom three films, so I wasn't expecting much out of Intolerable Cruelty. Perhaps the movie benefited from these lowered expectations, but I am putting it above Hudsucker Proxy and even No Country for Old Men, into 10th place on the list.

It is probably the least representative movie the Coens have ever done, and more broadly appealing on a commercial basis than most of their output (True Grit being one exception.) George Clooney plays super-confident and super-competent divorce lawyer Miles Massey. He extricates Edward Herrmann's philandering Rex Rexroth from a potentially costly divorce by proving that his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) married him with the intent of divorcing him and taking his money.

I think one of the reasons this movie failed to find the broad audience it so patently sought is that the Coens refused to sell out their characters. Zeta-Jones remains mercenary and money-hungry throughout the film, and the film never tries to soften her or rationalize her pursuit of the almighty dollar.

The film's plot takes a few interesting turns which show that the Coen brothers weren't just cashing a paycheck. There are also quite a few great set pieces and quirky side characters which make the movie feel more like one of their projects. These include a hit man with asthma, a judge who'll allow anything in her court, and Billy Bob Thornton's genial but dim-witted Texan.

Basically, Intolerable Cruelty is a lesser Coen Brothers movie with brighter colors and fewer obscure references and humorous double-talk. It's still an engrossing and worthwhile movie.

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