Director Spotlight: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“For that you traded your ever lasting soul?……Well, I wasn’t using it.”

Continuing our look at the movies of The Coen Brothers this month, this week we’re looking at 2000’s O, Brother Where Art Thou. I am a big fan of The Coen Brothers and I had never seen this movie. I am not too sure why I had never gotten around to seeing this until now. I think it might be because in my head I thought of this as a different movie. To me it was always a musical and I really can’t stand movie musicals. I think the only musical I actually like is Spinal Tap.

I’ll admit I went into this movie expecting the worst, but came out of it pleasantly surprised. The movie is a fun and crazy trip through a fantasy version of the American deep South during the years right before WWII. It’s filled with a great cast of characters and some great performances from everyone involved. It’s a movie that sticks with you and makes you smile.

O Brother, Where Art Thou is The Coen Brother’s version of the poem we had to read in high school, Homer’s The Odyssey (the quote during the opening credits is from The Odyssey). As I was watching this it occurred to me that the story was vaguely familiar. Once I made the connection it really stood out. The Coen Brothers set their story during the 1930s in the Great Depression. The movie follows three escaped convicts, Ulysses (George Clooney), Pete (John Turtorro) and Delmar (Tim Drake Nelson) as they follow Ulysses to a stash of money buried just before he was arrested for robbery. The catch being that they only have two weeks to get to the money. The valley where Ulysses buried his treasure is about to be flooded to create a lake.

As the story starts we see our heroes escape a chain gang and bumble their way to freedom. They make it to Pete’s cousins farmhouse and are quickly betrayed to the authorities and are on the run again. That first encounter sets the tone for what’s in store as this fun and unique movie gets rolling. The boys find themselves in one crazy situation after another. As I mentioned before, the story parallels Homer’s The Odyssey and like that story our heroes meet the oddest characters imaginable and deal with situations that defy logic and in some cases gravity.  I’m gonna stop with the spoilers here because this movie is a treat and I really don’t want to “spoil” that experience for anyone. It’s that good.

It’s another example of what makes The Coen Brother’s great and uniquely American in the way they make their movies. They take situations and coincidence to their extremes and do it with their lovingly unique look at Americana. Having seen most of their movies, I can’t help but notice how distinctive their movies are. Whether it’s Miller’s Crossing or last years’ True Grit, you know you are watching a Coen Brothers movie. With O Brother, they add their twisted sense of humor and warped sense of movie reality to an adventure. The cast is great. Everyone in this is at their best. The music, which I had no real frame of reference for until I saw this, is mostly American folk music from the movie’s setting. It’s actually very good and not at all what I expect when I put the two words “folk” and “music” together.

If you haven’t seen this yet and you’re a fan of The Coens, definitely track this down and give it a watch. Extra points for being one of the few movies the brothers have done that can be watched by the whole family, too.



Posted on April 15, 2011, in Director Spotlight and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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