Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
|Comedy and Crime/Gangster
|1 hr. 44 min.
|Year of Release:
Irma P. Hall
Joel Coen — “Bad Santa,” “Intolerable Cruelty,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” “The Big Lebowski”
Ethan Coen—“The Big Lebowski”
|Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Tom Jacobson, Barry Josephson, Barry Sonnenfeld
|Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Academy Award®-winner Tom Hanks teams up for the first time with Academy Award®-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) for this retelling of the critically acclaimed 1955 comedy, “The Ladykillers.” Hanks stars as Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, Ph.D., a charlatan professor who’s assembled a gang of “experts” for the heist of the century. The thieves: experts in explosions, tunneling, and muscle, and the critical “inside man.” The base of operations: the root cellar of an unsuspecting, church-going little old lady named Mrs. Munson (IRMA P. HALL). The ruse: the five need a place to practice their church music. The problem: it quickly becomes evident that Dorr’s thieves lack the mental capacity to do the job. The bigger problem: they have all seriously underestimated their upstairs host.
When Mrs. Munson stumbles onto their plot and threatens to notify the authorities, the felonious five decide to do her in. After all, how hard can it be to knock off one old lady?”
“Thou shall not kill” is applicable to this eleventh Coen Brothers cinematic concoction, but more precisely is the idea that it is reprehensible to even attempt killing a faith-filled, respectable southern lady. “The Ladykillers” is another peculiar notch in the belt of outlandish comedies for filmmakers Joel and Ethan (Bad Santa, The Big Lebowski), which revels in immoral dealings but nevertheless rounds out with evil doing being brought to justice.
In a small town in Mississippi, Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks) inquires of renting a room and borrowing the cellar in the home of a sweet, church-going widow Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall). Dorr explains he needs the space to rehearse with his ensemble, but he’s really in cahoots with this varied “band” of characters to dig a tunnel from it to a nearby casino and thereby heist all of its money. The trick for these marauders is to hide their caper from the Christian woman whose home they’re using and retain their cover as musicians.
Contrasting the uprightness of Mrs. Munson, there is a host of sinful behavior committed by Dorr and his gang. Mrs. Munson is a regular church attender who knows and quotes the Bible and faithfully donates five dollars every month to the Christian school Bob Jones University. From the beginning, she is set up as a kind of upright “do-gooder” when she visits the local sheriff and complains about some young kids playing their “hippidy-hop” music too loud. She is the kind who is out to right what she thinks is wrong.
Dorr and his gang, however, seem to break almost every one of the Ten Commandments. Their whole scheme is wrapped up in lying, stealing and killing—to name a few.
Gawain (Marlon Wayans) uses extreme profanity. Probably every foul word conceived was used by him, and done in excess. Gawain also uses a lot of crass sexual humor, and one of the scenes deals with how he slept with one of the casino patrons. There is no sex or nudity, but there is one close up of this girl’s backside as Gawain walks behind her and makes lewd remarks.
Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like the Coens really celebrate the “happy ending” in their films. They use them (i.e., Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty), but it feels like they work within the framework of a moral universe because they know that it’s futile to do otherwise. For this reason, there are truths that can be extracted from their movies.
One truth that can be exemplified is from Proverbs 13:22, which says, “.the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.” (NAS) Another is from Proverbs 28:13 which says, “No one who conceals transgressions will prosper, but one who forsakes and confesses them will obtain mercy.” (NRSV) This second proverb can be seen in the confrontation when Mrs. Munson proposes a deal to Dorr, including an invitation for he and his friends to attend church with her.
Throughout the story, Dorr and Mrs. Munson seem to go head to head in their ideas about life. One night while they’re relaxing and reading, Dorr discusses the wisdom he gleans from reading various works of literature. Mrs. Munson challenges him and asks him if it’s the wisdom of God or wisdom of man. Dorr acknowledges the merits of the “Good Book,” but concludes with her that there are other good books, too. But, ultimately, it’s Mrs. Munson’s way of life that finally wins out.
While these inferences of good winning out over evil may ring true, the aspects intended to be enjoyed most are the shenanigans of the wrongdoers. (This is true with most Coen comedies). The film does have plenty of authentic humor and another cast of original characters. The entire script is very tight and, as always, genuinely entertaining. For Tom Hanks, it seems he thrives again in his comedic forte, and after the first few minutes you are wrapped up in his character and don’t even think about him as an actor.
This is another well-crafted piece of movie making, but the excessive foul language may deter many away from it. There is also some violence involved, although it is obviously intended for comedy rather than drama.
Violence: Mild | Profanity: Extreme | Sex/Nudity: Minor