Rating: The Good – 83.1 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 99mins Director: Joel & Ethan Coen Stars: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya
The Coen Brothers’ debut and arguably their signature film stars Ray Hedaya as a wealthy but jealous bar owner who hires a seedy private detective (M. Emmet Walsh), firstly, to confirm that his younger wife (Francis McDormand) is having an affair with his employee (John Getz) but eventually, to kill them both. As you’d expect from the Coens, there are lots of ins and lots of outs in this story and, combined with the seductive dialogue, it makes for a compelling modern film noir that ranks among the best of the genre. Appropriate also to the genre is Barry Sonnenfeld’s atmospheric photography and the way in which the wider setting (in this case Texas) becomes a character in the story in and of itself (ditto Carter Burwell’s seeping score). The cast are uniformly excellent with McDormand, Walsh, and Hedaya being particularly memorable. Hedaya for his part has never been better and would easily run away with the film if it wasn’t for the caliber of his co-stars. Blood Simple is as atmospheric as movies get and there isn’t a single feature of the production that a movie buff wouldn’t relish. Most importantly, however, is the fact that it’s an electric story with more twists and turns than a bag full of corkscrews.
Rating: The Good – 87.7 Genre: Crime Duration: 115 mins Director: Joel & Ethan Coen Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
A rare gem of a film that has remained relatively unacknowledged (when compared to more commercially successful Coen films), Miller’s Crossing stands alongside The Big Lebowski as the Coen brothers’ best film to date. Based loosely on an often forgotten film-noir, The Glass Key, the film is set during the prohibition era and follows kingmaker Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne) in his attempts to play two rival gangs against the middle for reasons that are never entirely clear. This is a film that boasts perfection from all quarters from the casting, the acting, the writing, the directing, the cinematography, to the scoring. The cast is loaded with heavy hitters with Albert Finney and J.E. Freeman (as the terrifying Eddie Dane) doing particularly well alongside Gabriel Byrne who is in the form of his career. The directing is textbook as the brothers create a flawless synthesis of Dennis Gassner’s production design, Roger Deacons’ cinematography, and Carter Burwell’s score, all of which are stunning.
Of course, the standout strength of Miller’s Crossing is the dialogue which is not only the best example of Coen dialogue but perhaps the most powerful use of dialogue in modern film. The main thrust of the film’s quick and steady pace comes from the lyrical and relentless back and forth between the film’s characters and in typical noir fashion, this is usually between Tom and someone else. The story is the usual rubix cube of crosses and double-crosses which we have come to expect from the Coens but the payoff is perhaps more sharply realised here than in any of their other movies. In fact, the manner in which it all comes together is so sublime that Miller’s Crossing isn’t just one of the Coen’s best films, it’s also one of the best gangster noirs – period!
Although the general consensus is that Intolerable Cruelty is as a poor show by the bothers Joel and Ethan Coen, it’s in fact an often hilarious and delightfully goofy comedy about a successful and clever divorce lawyer (George Clooney) who gets romantically and professionally involved with a scheming and just as clever divorcee (Catherine Zeta Jones). The plot has some of the twists and turns of a typical Coen brothers’ film (though they are definitely dialed down) but much of the charm thanks mainly to Clooney’s fantastic slapstick performance and his chemistry with the thoroughly watchable Zeta Jones. The Coens are no doubt at half speed where the wackiness/zaniness is concerned but that itself is a welcome change of pace and reveals yet another more disciplined side to their film-making. That said, there are some great moments in this film with the showdown with Wheezy Joe being a particular standout. Their long-time collaborators, Carter Burwell (score) and Roger Deacons (cinematography) as usual contribute richly in their own respects.
Rating: The Good – 83 Genre: Thriller, Crime Duration: 122 mins Director: Joel & Ethan Coen Stars: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones
“He’s got some hard bark on him.” When the Coen Brothers took on a pensive story such as Cormac McCarthy’s exploration of the inherent evil of the modern world they were moving somewhat out of their comfort zone as even in their more serious past projects they had never tackled such weighty issues without their quirky story (Raising Arizona) or clever plot (Miller’s Crossing) being of more primary concern. Not surprisingly, the Coens rise to the task (and then some) as they meticulously craft one of the finest films of the decade. Josh Brolin plays a man who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad whilst hunting in the desert. He takes the money and becomes the target of a relentless and remorseless bounty hunter (Javier Bardem) whom the drug buyers hire to get their money back. Brolin and Bardem are sensationally good (with the latter deservedly scooping a best supporting Oscar for his terrifying portrayal of a truly deranged psychopath) as they engage in the most thrilling game of cat and mouse across southern Texas. Tommy Lee Jones is equally good as the world weary sheriff on both their trails. Long time collaborator Roger Deacons’ cinematography is as usual spectacular but even for him it’s pretty special. However, Carter Burwell doesn’t have as much to do as usual because the Coens rightly augmented the sense of desolation by choosing to go without a score for the vast majority of the film. And as if all this wasn’t enough, while most films with lofty ambitions usually stumble at the final hurdle where decisive conclusions must be drawn, the Coens put the seal on this cinematic triumph with one of the smartest endings imaginable.
Extraordinary remake of Charles Portis’ novel adapted and directed by the Coen brothers. Haille Steinfeld plays the headstrong young girl determined to hunt down the man who murdered her father. To this end she hires the one man she believes is salty enough to exact the pitiless vengeance she so desires, the mean tempered Rooster Cogburn. Steinfeld rightly got high plaudits for her performance as she belies her years with a layered and mature portrayal of the driven and angry young girl. Matt Damon puts in a strong supporting performance as the Texas ranger hunting the same villain while Josh Brolin is fantastic in his brief appearance of said villain. However, good as each of these are, they are cast in the shadow of Jeff Bridges’ immense portrayal of Cogburn as he strikes the perfect balance between cinematic charisma and gritty realness. He owns and possesses every second of every scene he features in and provides a superb counterpoint to every other character in the film. On the technical front, Bridges’ performance is equalled by the Coen’s sublime pacing and rhythmic back and forth dialogue that nears the perfection of Miller’s Crossing while Carter Burwell provides one of their most memorable scores. And then after all this, there is Roger Deacon’s cinematography which will simply blow your socks off. Never have the wide daylight illuminated vistas of the old west looked more starkly beautiful that in this film. However, they are nothing compared to the nighttime shots which driven by the Coen’s whimsical vision are the most magical and awe inspiring since Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Utterly magnificent.
“Nihilists? Say what you want about the tenets of nationalist socialism but at least it’s an ethos.” Maybe the funniest film ever made, this Coen Bros’ masterpiece is a triumph of writing, acting, and comedy direction. The quotable lines, the jokes, the glorious set-pieces are all too numerous to list while the story is too complicated and downright wacky to summarise. The acting is among the very best for a comedy with Jeff Bridges turning in an iconic performance as the Dude and John Goodman scoring equally well as his Vietnam obsessed bowling buddy Walter. The Big Lebowski is quite simply the most original, innovative, and laugh-out-loud comedy out there. “Am I wrong?”
Rating: The Good – 80.1 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 98 mins Director: Joel & Ethan Coen Stars: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi
A series of hapless and vicious criminals come together in a kidnapping caper only to see their best laid plans going awry as one domino falls after another. As is typical to the Coen Bros’ films Fargo’s plot is difficult to summarise and, as is equally typical, it involves a variety of original and authentic characters who all cross paths either directly or indirectly. Francis McDormand and William H. Macy have never been better as the wily and heavily pregnant police chief and amateur criminal respectively while Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare play a great and menacing double act as the guys Macy hires to kidnap his wife. The Coen’s have always been masters at demonstrating the importance of the unspoken moment but in Fargo they take it to a new level as each scene is given the time and space to breathe so that the audience is in turn given a deeper understanding of the various characters’ motivations. The exteriors of endless white (beautifully captured by Roger Deacons’ cinematography) only serve to enhance this feeling of space and time as the Coens create the most contemplative of backgrounds against which the mindlessness of the crimes and richness of life’s smaller pleasures can be examined. Absolutely beautiful.