O Brother, Where Art Thou?


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

O Brother Where Art Thou?
"Comic invention rides shotgun on a screenplay that runs wild."

The brothers Coen have not deserted the spirit of American slapstick. Buster Keaton would have been here if he could. This is his territory.

Instead, George Clooney disguises himself in a Clark Gable 'tache and takes the comedy lead. He makes a mighty fine job of it.

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Loosely based on The Odyssey, the film follows three hapless escapees from a chain gang in Mississippi during the Depression, as they stumble and fall into more and more bizarre situations. The South, it seems, is inhabited by bigoted white fat men and dark-skinned blues singers, who are liable to be lynched at any moment.

Eccentricity is the norm and the ability to make the most of a crisis essential to survival. Everett (Clooney), Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) encounter just about everything from a jovial bank robber to a Klu Klux Klan rally on their travels.

Pete and Delmar believe they are going to share a treasure trove that Everett buried before being hauled off to jail. Everett has other plans, which concern his ex-wife (Holly Hunter) and their daughters. The word "bonafide" is banded about, as if it doesn't apply to him, which strictly speaking is true, when compared to her future ("The wedding is tomorrah") husband.

The Coens love the grotesque and the Deep South in the Thirties seems to thrive on it, none more so than Big T (John Goodman), a one-eyed confidence trickster of mammoth proportions. When Pete is turned into a horned toad by the Sirens, well, that's plain weird. Delmar believes so, anyway, and carries him around in a shoe box.

When the brothers have fun, no holds are barred. Comic invention rides shotgun on a screenplay that runs wild. Keeping up is part of the pleasure. Clooney should forget about two-dimensional movie star roles (The Perfect Storm). He's a natural for comedy. Once again, the Coens point the way.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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O Brother, Where Art Thou? packshot
Chain gang escapees in Deep South emulate a comic Odyssey.
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Director: Joel Coen

Writer: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Burke Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman

Year: 2000

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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