O Brother Where Art Thou?

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Three escapees from a chain gang in search of a treasure.

As if that were all that’s happening in this INCREDIBLY BRILLIANT FILM. Hah!

OK, you listen to me now: this is one of the BEST MOVIES EVER, and one of the fun things about it is all the surprises in store for you. So if you haven’t seen it, RUN, don’t walk, to the closest store and BUY IT for goodness’ sakes! you’ll watch it over and over, and love it more each time you see it, I promise. Your money back if I’m wrong.

But I’m not. Trust Otter.

Three escapees from a chain gang in search of a treasure.

As if that were all that’s happening in this INCREDIBLY BRILLIANT FILM. Hah!

This review GIVES AWAY all the WONDERFUL plot points in the movie, so if you lied and clicked on the link to get here, this is your LAST CHANCE to go back and see the movie before you read any farther and turn into a toad.


And now, where can I begin to talk about the wonder that is this movie? It’s sort of a retelling of the Odyssey, and although the plot doesn’t match on all points, a good many of the things we expect to see are there: the lotus eaters, the sirens, Polyphemus (who after all IS done in with a burning stake, wonderful quick change there!), Penelope and her suitor, King Menelaus, and more. Every time I see this movie, I find more to marvel at and more things hidden in it…in fact, in writing this review, I just figured out that Helen of Troy is here too, even though she was actually only in the Iliad…very interesting!

Like most good retellings, it has its own voice and flavor, while still referring back to the original story, well done indeed.

The time and place are perfectly set, period detail, costume, and the look of the people…even George Clooney, so stuck on his movie-star looks, is handsome in a 30s sort of way…Mr. Otter thinks that one of his drawbacks as an actor is that he is always himself, but in this movie that works just fine, he is indeed perfect for the role of Ulysses McGill.

Total honey, of course, no question there, but I debated whether or not he could act until I saw him in this and also in Three Kings…he is indeed a good actor, as well as being completely stunningly melt-your-socks gorgeous. A nice combination.

(And Mr. Otter, years after my original review of this movie, says: You should be aware that my opinion of Mr. Clooney’s acting has changed, and did so some time back. I am now persuaded that he is one of the finest *actors* in movies.)

There are so many good actors here, even in bit parts, that I’m not even going to try to name them all, but John Goodman is a favorite chez Otter, and does an excellent job here, he’s great fun…and of course Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro as the other two escapees couldn’t be more perfect.

And the Klu Klux Klan scene! A full-costume Busby Berkeley dance routine, with sound effects from the Witch’s guards in Wizard of Oz, and that beautiful song rising over it all…I was in awe of this whole juxtaposition, and still am. Actually, this scene caused a storm of controversy on the Fiddle-L Listserv (even though the movie was mostly off topic, of course they had to talk about it), mostly for the use of Ralph Stanley’s haunting O Death as the backdrop to a KKK rally…but it works.

In fact, all the music works amazingly well. Unlike Songcatcher, another movie built around songs that were picked first and the plot fitted to them, the music and the plot here go hand in hand like good friends. Either would be poorer without the other (although I have to admit the CD is indeed kickass and you should run out and get it too) and the sum is greater than the parts. All the songs are good, well performed and fit the action…many are quite beautiful.

The wonderful fiddler John Hartford is here, at the end of his life, and even on camera in one scene (taking Baby Face Nelson to prison). And Robert Johnson too! Mr. Otter had just finished reading Reservation Blues to me when we saw this movie, so that made quite an impact on us.

OK, so much for music…but what about the movie itself?

Brilliant. (Have I overused that word? but it is so appropriate…) The Coen Brothers (Ethan and Joel) have outdone themselves. We loved Fargo, chez Otter, and now they have brought to life another priceless slice of Americana…with a whole different tone, message and feeling to it. Not all of their movies are this good, many of them are real dogs, but by golly, when they do something right, they REALLY do it right.

I am still amazed at how much this movie has going for it…plot twists, unbelieveable happenings that are completely believeable, characters that are so real you wonder what happened to them later, VERY scary bad guys, magic, laughs, and music.

I think I’m going to go watch it again. Want to join me?

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