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Movie Review

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and language

Reviewed by: Artie Megibben
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
Genre:
Drama, Comedy
Length:
1 hr. 42 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
_____
Relevant Issues
Featuring: Ed Gale, George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter
Director: Joel Coen
Producer: John Cameron, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Ethan Coen, John Cameron, Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

I have a problem with movies where everybody talks as if they were reading out of an old novel about a bunch of would-be colorful characters. They usually end up sounding silly.” Those are the opening lines to Roger Ebert’s 1987 review of the Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Raising Arizona”. Ebert follows up with this tidbit of film-makig wisdom: “Generally speaking, it’s best to have your characters speak in strong but unaffected English…”

Thank God, the Coen brothers never heeded the ol’ thumb guy’s advice. Since “Raising Arizona”, the Coen boys have entertained and bewildered critics and moviegoers alike with odd films that transcend both Oscar nods and box office plods. Since Ebert’s bleak star-and-a-half review lo these many years ago, Coen-inspired films have been a never-ending parade of dialects and dialogue both absurd and heartwarming. Swedish Midwestern Policewomen. Twangy Southwestern Furniture Salesmen. Laid-back West Coast dudes. Even fast-talking Muncie girls. Well, their latest film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, is no exception—a delicious melange of southern-fried accents, over-the-top homilies and—you got it—totally “affected” English. (Sorry, Roger).

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is kind of a cockeyed collision of Homer’s “Odyssey” and a Flannery O'Connor short story.

Scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou? “A Perfect Storm”’s George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill (Get it? Ulysses?) an escaped convict from a Mississippi chain gang. He is joined (at the hip) by two lovable dim wits played brilliantly by John Turturro (BARTON FINK) and Tim Blake Nelson. it’s like “Of Mice and Men” with two Lennys for the price of one. The trio begins their Odyssey in the Post-Depression South coming across colorful characters with every optical malady imaginable. After two wrong guesses as to who corresponds to the Odyssey’s Cyclops, John Goodman (“Big Lebowski”) enters the movie as a conniving, one-eyed Bible salesman. (The Sirens, thankfully, are much easier to identify.)

True to the Homerian epic, our Ulysses has a wife. However, this Penelope has not been nearly as faithful awaiting her husband’s return. As a matter of fact, the former Mrs. McGill, played by another Coen alum, Holly Hunter, has told her children that their ne’er do well father was hit by a train—it sounds nicer than Daddy’s in the slammer. Oh, and by the way, she is set to marry a “bona fide” suitor in just a matter of days.

In place of the Greek epic’s pantheon of gods, this Ulysses and his hapless companions come across various Bible-belt manifestations of the Christian Deity. Two of the escapees join a Baptist congregation “down by the riverside” and have their sins washed away. Of course, their faith wavers ever so slightly when Brother McGill explains that getting things squared away with the Lord doesn’t absolve you of your crimes against the Commonwealth of Mississsippi. Too bad. By the end of the film, even the slick, cynical McGill is on his knees asking the good Lord’s intervention.

This offbeat, artsy film maintains a striking cinematic look—amber waves of grain, amber autumnal foilage, amber campfire flames. Big on the amber. The film also boasts a mournful score of old southern bluegrass gospel numbers. By the way, my wife assures me that the Coens are not making fun of Christians in this film (That “laughing with you, not at you” thing.) But be forewarned, with plenty of violence, animal cruelty and down-home cussing, there is something in this film to offend pretty much everybody—cow and horn toad lovers if no one else.

All in all, however, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is a beautifully crafted, quirky film—perhaps the Coen’s oddest—and one of the few films this year than will speak of salvation, answered prayer, while using the Lord’s name in some way other than the proverbial curse word. And that, in this day and age, O brothers, is something just short of a miracle.


Viewer Comments
I thought that this movie was absolutely terrific. The music was fabulous, a little bluegrass, some gospel, etc. I absolutely loved The Foggy Bottom Boys. As long as we remember that this is entertainment and not some kind of statement, I think most people would enjoy this movie. Granted there is violence and the use of the Lord’s Name in vain which is offensive but the movie as entertainment is great. The baptism scene is really quite good and the music during that scene is great. I thought that the 3 convicts were absolutely great and really quite funny.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Dennis Willows, age 49
I was pleasantly surprised by the strong Christian morals represented in this movie. it’s a film about God’s redemption. Yes, there is an uncomfortable scene that involves the Ku Klux Klan, but it’s well-handled in that the KKK is not glorified, but God’s justice is. it’s obvious that John Goodman’s character, a seedy Bible salesman, but is not a God-fearing man following Jesus’ law of love. But again, the filmakers make this distinction obvious and the contrast makes the goodness of God’s Christianity that much more apparent. This movie is about faith, and sin, and the gift that is God’s grace. it’s a thinking man’s movie, full of Christian symbolism if you’re open to it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
—Melissa, age 22
See this movie only if you are a fan of other “Coen Brothers” efforts; otherwise you just “won’t get it.” My wife and I found this to be an excellent production, with a surprisingly strong performance by Clooney. Also, do not see this film if you are seeking validation for your faith through the representation of the film’s characters. This equally applies to those who are hyper-sensitive about Southerners, politicians, blacks, law-enforcement officers, convicts, children, whites, musicians, and those who live in poverty. C’mon… it is ENTERTAINMENT, and for that it delivers brilliantly!
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Robert, age 35
My husband and I and another couple received free tickets to a sneak preview of this movie and we are still sorry we saw it. There is a lot of profanity with the majority of it including our Lord’s name being taken in vain. Besides this there is an uncomfortable scene with the Ku Klux Klan and an instance where the position of pastor is mocked. And to top it off, the movie in general is awful. This is not just my opinion but that of the other people I went with as well. All we could say when we left was at least we didn’t have to pay to see it. We all enjoy a good comedy, but this is nowhere close. Do not go see this movie, and do not waste your money to rent it when it is released to video!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1]
—Sherri, age 23
I just saw this new comedy and I enjoyed it very much. Quick, name me another current Hollywood film with a baptism scene in it! The music is wonderful, mostly bluegrass and gospel songs from the 30’s. The baptism song, “Down To The River To Pray”, is sung by Alison Krauss who has the voice of an angel. The film looks as though it was filmed through a golden filter, it’s really neat. Some things I didn’t like about the movie: Unfortunately, there is some cursing and some short but violent fight scenes and cow shootings! One character says that he sold his soul to the devil in trade for musical ability. The main character, acted very well for the most part by George Clooney is a non-believer and makes fun of his two friends for getting saved. Although in another part of the film he gets on his knees and asks God to save him. The best character in the film to me was Delbert, the supposed “dumb one”. Uh, all three of the main characters are none to bright, if ya know what I mean. Delbert rushes into the river with the brothers and sisters to be baptized by the preacher first and during the story you see that he is a kind and sweet person. Just the look on his face at times will crack you up! If you don’t think you would like the movie, and it probably will offend some, by all means listen to the soundtrack CD. I can recommend it 100% with no reservations as the finest movie soundtrack I have heard in a long time. The gospel songs include, “Down To The River To Pray”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “In The Highways”, “Angel Band” and many other fine songs.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Bob, age 44
OK, basically, this whole movie (as it says in the credits) is based upon Homer’s “Odyssey”. As we all know, Homer was a Greek in the time before Jesus, and therefore, a Hellenistic pagan. Our main character isn’t a Christian, though his compatriots are (they get baptized, but generally, Ulyssees’ attitude towards this is either skeptical, or a certain analytical aloofness). He does briefly turn to prayer when the going gets tough, but that’s about it. Most of the time, Ulysees gets ahead using trickery, but it isn’t too bad. Ulysees is a bit of a trickster character like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn is. He does show quite a dedication to the wife and children he left behind when he went to the penal farm, even though she did divorce him and was about to remarry. We got violence too, although it’s only a few small scenes that aren’t especially violent or bloody. There is the case of one character supposedly having sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for learning to play guitar. This is supposedly the legend behind a famous blues player from the South. There’s only two cases were Christians are portrayed as bad. One is by the character of John Goodman, who passes himself off as a Bible salesman, and he says one can make good money in the business of the Lord. One can interpret this either as people using Christianity to dupe people, or that God rewards people for their service to the faith. The other is when the KKK shows up. THe Grand Dragon (the guy in red) goes on a tirade about how every non-white, non-Protestant is ruining the country. This is typical rhetoric of the KKK though, somehow equating their racist agenda as a great Christian crusade, though oddly they don’t realize Jesus himself was a Jew and that he told the disciples to spread the word to the entire world, not just the white race. We also have a slight case of seduction and drinking, but this is not overly emphasized, and the seduction by the Sirens has no nudity.
My Ratings: [Excellent / 5]
—N.M. Dorsan, age 21
Movie Critics
…This movie’s toe-tapping Gospel music, positive Christian content and positive Christian ending are undercut by plenty of foul language and some shocking, but brief, violent images…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…sarcastic portrayal of Christians…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…Several instances of mild sexual innuendo…
—Kids-in-Mind
…certainly offbeat, but it lacks the outlandishness of the filmmakers’ better work…
—Lucas Hilderbrand, Pop Matters
All I have to say about this movie is that it was great. It is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen and it does it while being relatively clean. Wonderful acting, wonderful script. See this movie! I am yet to meet someone who did not love it as much as I did.
My Ratings: [SLIGHTLY Objectionable / 5]
—Britt Andrews, age 16
A wonderful movie, holding true to the Odyssey, but one should read the book before going, or at least pick up the cliffnotes. Some say that the wife did not stay as truthful to Ulysses as she did in the book, I however remember that the wife in the book was being pressured to marry again, and what better pressure would there be to remarry than being in the Depression with seven girls to feed? There is one slightly objectional part where the sirens are depicted but it is still holding true to the origional story. don’t take your young children, about 16 and older I would say
My Ratings: [SLIGHTLY Objectionable / 4½]
—Greetings From Alaska, age 21
What a fantastic movie! George Clooney was terrific, as were each of the three lead actors. I really liked it. It was light hearted and funny and just a real treat to watch. I’m a huge fan of the Coen Brothers, who isn’t, and I really thought that the movie was great. I really didn’t notice anything wrong with it, maybe a little language but that’s it. I liked it because there really wasn’t ever a dull moment. The plot flowed nicely and it was hilarious.
My Ratings: [SLIGHTLY Objectionable / 4½]
—Jason Eaken, age 17
A film that requires a third and fourth viewing to capture all the brilliance within. See it alone and in a sparce theater just to ponder the dialogue. John Goodman, finishing his chicken underneath the oak tree in the meadow, says “I appreciate the break in conversation while I eat. I find it vulgar and offensive. Now what were we talking about?” to which Delmer responds “Making money off selling God’s Word”, or words to that effect. Simply brilliant, disturbingly poignant, and impactful. And that’s just ONE line. There are hundreds. One should see this movie just to appreciate the Art of film making. Look underneath the surface, review the Odyssey plot beforehand, and slap on the Dapper Dan. And turn on Allison Krauss on the cassette heading to the theater. Masterful work by the Coen boys.
My Ratings: [SLIGHTLY Objectionable / 5]
—Ulysses Ethan Lee Sparks, age 35