O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In the deep south during the 1930s, three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure while a relentless lawman pursues them.

So after a lengthy hiatus during the World Cup, I’ve returned to the Coen Brothers retrospective that I’d started 2/3 months back. Last time out I reviewed their cult classic ‘The Big Lebowski‘, and next up is ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?‘, another film that broadly falls into the comedy genre, but is probably closer in style to ‘Raising Arizona‘ than the latter.

The film is a loose retelling of Homer’s epic poem ‘Odyssey‘, and whilst it is pretty enjoyable throughout, it didn’t really leave a lasting impression on me. It follows three escaped convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) who set out to locate a stash of money that Everett (Clooney) claims he stashed before being convicted. Along the way they encounter a variety of quirky characters, in classic Coen’s style, and find themselves in lots of strange and bizarre situations. One of these situations involves playing a folk song on a local radio station under the name of ‘The Soggy Bottom Boys’, and this becomes quite prominent later in the film.

One of my main issues with the film is that it feels like a collection of great scenes that don’t come together to create a great movie. The Coen’s have always been good at crafting individual scenes and creating memorable characters that may only feature for a small part of the film, and that skill is evident throughout ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?‘. At their best, this all comes together wonderfully (think the initially slow ‘Miller’s Crossing‘, which expertly crafts scenes and characters that don’t become vital to the overarching plot until the latter part of the movie – the key is that they eventually do prove vital), but I don’t think ‘O Brother’ achieves that level.

The review thus far may sound like I disliked the film which couldn’t be further from the truth. The central trio are great fun, and the supporting performances from John Goodman and Charles Durning are particularly enjoyable. Some of the individual scenes are superb, with the expertly crafted Ku Klax Klan sequence arguably the highlight, making excellent use of the fire and darkness to light the ominous surroundings. The highlight of the film overall is the excellent music throughout, which makes a good attempt at drawing the disparate scenes together tonally. Contributions to the soundtrack were made by a variety of well regarded folk and country artists, and the bluegrass and gospel sounds throughout really enhance the movie.

In conclusion, this is an enjoyable move with some great scenes and a terrific soundtrack, but it won’t be troubling a list of my favourite Coen Brother’s films. Next up is ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There‘, a Billy Bob Thornton noir which I’m even more intrigued to see after his excellent turn in the ‘Fargo‘ TV Series, which was far better than I expected it to be.

Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Joel & Ethan Coen

Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, John Goodman and Ray McKinnon


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