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O Brother, Where Art Thou? Review

By Joe Lozito

Coen South


If anyone were going to write a film based on Homer's "The Odyssey" I'm glad that Joel and Ethan Coen did. However, the story they chose to relate in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" may have been better off without the Homeric touches - the sirens, John Goodman's eye-patched Cyclops - which feel thrust upon it. True, "The Odyssey" may be the first recorded instance of a "Road Movie", but aside from the aforementioned allusions and a penchant for prescient blind characters, the Coen's tale of three escaped convicts has more to do with Homer the Simpson than Homer the poet.

When filmmakers, like the Coen Brothers, have such an inimitable style, they often run the risk of becoming knock-offs of themselves. Such is the case with the recent films of John Woo and M. Night Shyamalan, as well as any post-"Pulp Fiction" work by Quentin Tarantino. The Coens have successfully avoided such a slump until now. Every "quirky" character in "O Brother" seems calculatedly so. The film jerks forward in random leaps as though the brothers were thinking "what can we do now?"

Their style is still intact; the film looks great. It has the complete feeling of Depression Era Mississippi and, as usual, the soundtrack is peppered with scene-setting gems - particularly "Man of Constant Sorrow" which George Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill croons as if with divine inspiration. To paraphrase "Mad" magazine, the usual gang of idiots is in place to support Mr. Clooney. Coen-mainstays like Mr. Goodman, Holly Hunter (as an underused Penelope - or "Penny") and John Turturro round out the cast.

But the film, for all its curveballs has nothing driving it forward. Even wordplay, which served the Coens so well in the masterful "Fargo", feels forced this time around. The film goes out of its way to pepper the dialogue with a "quaint" Southern patois (Penny dumps Ulysses because he's not "bonafide", but he insists that he is the "paterfamilias" to their seven daughters). The film is as rambling as the untouched Southern vistas which so beautifully populate it. It's clear that the Coens are great filmmakers, but their "O Brother" is just not...dare I say it...bonafide.

What did you think?

Movie title O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Release year 2000
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary For once the Coen Brothers fall short with their forced take on 'The Odyssey' which, like its title, has the feeling of an in-joke that the audience is left out of.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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