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O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU

SYNOPSIS:
Everett Ulysses McGill (George Clooney) is a silver-tongued petty criminal eager to make his escape from the chain gang in Mississippi, serving a term of hard labour. Still shackled together, McGill and fellow convicts, the simple Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and maladjusted Pete (John Turturro), he makes a dash for freedom and embark on a mission to recover a fortune in buried treasure, but the trio get entangled in a series of unexpected and sometimes bizarre adventures along the way, with lawman Cooley (Daniel Von Bargden) in pursuit.

"Picture George Clooney in a hair net, John Turturro yodelling in a long false beard and Tim Blake Nelson talking to a toad… and you'll get a taste of what's in store in O Brother, Where Art Thou, the latest offering from the Coen Brothers. Essentially a wacky tale about salvation and redemption, O'Brother comprises a series of vignettes, as the three cowboy convicts on-the-run, travel down the road of life and literally run into the most bizarre characters imaginable. It wins hands down in terms of weird characters, and there are some wonderful ideas and classic moments. But for me, O'Brother doesn't quite get there; everyone is so strange, that we seem to be looking for the cheap laugh, rather than the ultimate entertainment. We are distracted by too many ideas, which takes away from our affinity with the characters. There are politically incorrect touches with little people, a damaged cow, irreverence, people with disabilities and stereotypes – if you want to be offended, there's plenty of scope. And you won't forget John Goodman as the one-eyed insane bible salesman, or Michael Badalucco as Babyface Nelson the manic depressive bankrobber, and Stephen Root's blind Radio Station Man. The music theme that erupts from The Soggy Bottom Boys' chance recording works beautifully and the payoff is as juicy as you can hope for. You know where the plot is leading, but nothing spoils the mishap-riddled climax, when we just can't wait for the obvious conclusion to manifest itself. George Clooney (looking very much like Clark Gable, with a pencil thin mustache) is superb as the hair-obsessed Everett. Yep, he looks ever bit as dapper as our image of Dapper Dan, the brand of hair pomade for which he hankers. And together with John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson (both are marvellous), it's quite an extraordinary three-some. Cinematically, O'Brother looks a treat, with its muted autumn colours and glorious countryside, while the bluegrass and hillbilly music just keeps 'em toes tapping, and the Coen Bros sock it to us full pelt with mass-bizarre. It's a lot of fun, but like its moral about seeking your fortune, it may not be quite the film you think it is."
Louise Keller

"Like a funny idea that gets thrown around a group of friends at a bar one night, embellished with ever more outlandish elements as the night (and the booze) goes on, O Brother . . . begins to spin fairly early and spins right out before the second reel. You either go with it or you get spun off the seat. If you’ve got as far as paying for your ticket, you would know this is a Coen brothers film, so don’t go expecting Paul Verhoeven. Idiosyncratic is a good way to describe the film; there are moments of near genius with intermittent stretches of imperfection. But the cast take it all on board with a zest that is refreshing and entertaining. The story itself – the Coen’s version of Homer’s The Odyssey, but don’t expect a1920s replica – is really a hokey pastiche that jokes about its origins with a wry, good-natured and juvenile sensibility. It’s fun, with panto proportions."
Andrew L. Urban

"Even in middling form the Coen brothers produce more interesting work than most other filmmakers. This is far from their best but still makes for an entertaining though hollow trek through depression-era America, via Homer's The Odyssey and Preston Sturges' 1941 classic Sullivan's Travels (O Brother, Where Art Thou is the title of a serious drama the Sullivan character played by Joel McCrae wants to direct). The goofy lyrics of opening titles song Big Rock Candy Mountain - "jails made out of tin...you can walk right out as soon as you walk in" - set the tone as George Clooney, complete with axle grease in his hair and a Clark Gable moustache, leads cohorts John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson on a stumble around the backwoods in the quest for buried loot. Like Woody Allen and Robert Altman,the Coens are stylists working in the studio system whose precise vision reaches the screen in undiluted form. This serves them well in the many comic set-pieces that dot this amiable tale but the story is ultimately too slender to deliver what this odyssey promises. Like many of the Coen's films the whole is much less than the sum of some inspired parts which include a stunningly staged Ku Klux Klan ceremony and a delirious sequence in which the boys find themselves on-stage at a political rally. Performances are uniformly good, with Clooney's bright-eyed delivery of the ripe dialogue and Tim Blake Nelson's loveable loser the standouts. Add Coen stock company regulars John Goodman as a sleazy bible salesman, Holly Hunter as Clooney's estranged and ashamed wife and Charles Durning as Southern governor Pappy O'Daniel who's on the re-election trail and you have a rich gallery of oddballs who just need a more substantial story to be part of. O Brother... , which also features a splendid soundtrack courtesy of T Bone Burnette and some well chosen originals, gets by well enough on goodwill but also adds weight to the theory that for all their apparent cleverness the Coens are riddles without a Sphinx."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

TRAILER

O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (M)
(US)

CAST: George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro, Chris Thomas King, John Goodman, Michael Badalucco, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning

DIRECTOR: Joel Coen

PRODUCER: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

SCRIPT: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins

EDITOR: Roderick Jaynes, Tricia Cooke

MUSIC: T-Bone Burnett

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dennis Gassner

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: United International Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: December 26, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

VIDEO RELEASE: May 30, 2001







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