Divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) manages to thwart the formidable gold digger Marylin Rexroth (Cathryn Zeta-Jones) in her attempt to walk off with the entire fortune of his client, the philandering Mr Rexroth (Edward Herrman). Marylin schemes to get even and part of the plan is to marry oilman Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton) with the help of Miles – much to his surprise. Fascinated by this creature, Miles begins to fall in love, even while brandishing the ironclad ‘Massey pre-nup’ agreement, his ultimate weapon and sale item. The two smart alecks head for a showdown and their own wedding, but when their own ‘Massey pre-nup’ is torn up, who knows what’ll happen.
Review by Louise Keller:
A witty and sparkling royal flush of a film in the suit of hearts, Intolerable Cruelty is a dazzling fountain of laughs. From its spectacular opening scenes which follow a ponytailed Geoffrey Rush singing Simon and Garfunkel in his Jaguar convertible confronting a pool-supplies handyman for servicing his wife with more than chlorine, through the whole cynical money-grubbing cupid love-journey, the Coen Brothers have another sure winner on their hands.
The script spits out gem after gem, and everything is a negotiation – even the vintage of the wine. ‘Everyone has a Tensing Norgay’ muses George Clooney’s teeth-obsessed divorce attorney who has everything, referring to that critical someone who helps the ambitious reach their summit. And what an entertaining treat we are in for, when Miles’ Tensing Norgay technique is put into effect in the courtroom.
Dashingly handsome Clooney is just splendid as the bored, successful lawyer trying to find the meaning of life between successful litigations, while Catherine Zeta-Jones is exquisite in every sense of the word as the man-eating Marylin. There’s a lovely scene when Miles orders for both of them in a restaurant, with a well-calculated throw-away ‘I assume you are a carnivore?’ to which Marylin replies ‘You have no idea!’ Clooney and Zeta-Jones have great chemistry and their scenes together are sheer push-me pull-me magic. The ideas are wildly imaginative and the characters beautifully drawn.
From wacky to plain bizarre, we meet Billy Bob Thornton’s oil millionaire who eats his words, Edward Herrmann’s ‘very rich, silly man with a restless winkie’, Paul Adelstein’s cutthroat lawyer who cries at weddings, Irwin Keyes’ dummy of a hit man Wheezy Joe, without forgetting the intestine-less head of the company hooked up to drips and other medical devices. It’s a marvellous, razor-sharp reality, filled with craziness, farce, slapstick and one-liners that will have you rolling in your seat. The smattering of love-themed tunes is toe-tappingly pleasing and it’s one hell of an enjoyable ride. The course of true love may never be smooth, but love, honour and obey have never found as satisfying a bridge as over a lawyer’s desk.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In Hollywood, perception is everything. Yes, even more than reality. What you THINK you know IS what you know, after all. Replace ‘you’ with ‘they’ and you’ll see what I mean. Why more so in Hollywood? Because in Hollywood nobody knows anything (source: William Goldman, long time Hollywood scriptwriter) – except THAT. Are you following me?
Perception, then, is something Hollywood understands. It thrives on it. It sells perception. And the Coen brothers have bottled it in this film. Our perceptions are nurtured; sexy gold diggers in red dresses and venal, self-deluding lawyers are the stuff of this film, ultimately redeemed of course by the purifying incense of true love, even in Beverly Hills. But boy, do we have fun on the way.
Plastic surgery to body as well as soul is part of the tour, and nothing too naturalistic is allowed to get in the way of a great line or a knockout scene. Truisms observed by the writers are thrown about with the recklessness of a circus knife thrower, and with equal risk. Some of the repartee is as fast as they used to make it in Hollywood movies of the 30s and 40s. (That was when Hollywood made most of its commercial films for adult audiences.) And it’s because of those truisms that we accept the farcical and the silly and the oversized antics of this broad comedy . . . in a tailored suit.
Those truisms we recognise are things like ‘money doesn’t make you happy’ as displayed by ex-wives who have won the divorce but lost their lives. They are presented in a comic setting but still feed our need for moral justice. I’m getting way too heavy for this film, which is a simple and hugely entertaining joke (series of jokes) told about the rich club, marriage as a trade and knowing how to use the system. It’s not about divorce settlements at all; that’s just a parable; a story to satisfy our perceptions. It’s really about the only things that makes us decent to each other . . . yes (groan) love and loyalty. And humour.
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INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (M)
CAST: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Paul Adelstein, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thornton, Julia Duffy
PRODUCER: Ethan Coen, Brian Grazer
DIRECTOR: Joel Coen
SCRIPT: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (story by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, John Romano)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (as Roderick Jaynes)
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Leslie McDonald
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 23, 2003