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REVIEW: Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a Mixed Blessing

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire January 12, 2001 at 2:0AM

REVIEW: Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a Mixed Blessing
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REVIEW: Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a Mixed Blessing

Patrick Z. McGavin




[EDITOR'S NOTE: Patrick Z. McGavin reviewed "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" last year during the Cannes Film Festival]


Joel and Ethan Coen are exceptionally talented moviemakers whose films are imbued with a visual acuity and technical mastery that is absolutely breathtaking to behold. In close collaboration with their great
cinematographer Roger Deakins, the Coens create a moment by moment visual
invention that is bedazzling and brilliant. With their new Cannes
competition work, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" the plays of light, color,
movement and contrast are so elegantly and beautifully realized that it
obfuscates the movie's complications and problems. It is entertaining,
funny, vibrant but also thin and weightless.


The absence of a deeper emotional connection to the material defeats the
technical and stylistic rigor the brothers have so lovingly crafted. A
supposed variation of Homer's "The Odyssey," set in the Deep South during
the Depression, framed by a fantastic and judicious use of bluegrass music,
the movie is far more attuned to the history of American image making. The
title is appropriated from Preston Sturges's great Hollywood fantasia
"Sullivan's Travels," the most explicitly autobiographical of the director's
works, with Joel McCrea as the Hollywood director who conceals his identity
and undertakes an epic journey to distance himself from the popular, broad
comedies that made him rich and powerful in pursuit of a socially important
movie.


The opening moments, shot in slightly bleached, almost desaturated
tones, track the deadpan, comically inept actions of three Mississippi
convicts who've escaped a chain gang. Ulysses Everett McGill (George
Clooney
) is the group's leader, a feathery tongued petty criminal who
orchestrates the breakout with his two "chain mates," the funny,
spectacularly na