The Good: Funny!, Well-written, Good protagonist, Cinematography, Soundtrack and use of it.
The Bad: Flat peripheral characters, No superlative acting
The Basics: O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a clever, funny film that focuses on one man's attempt to return to his wife in the Deep South.
Well, readers of my reviews know I'm almost constantly looking for a comedy I'm willing to recommend and often falling drastically short of such. My main beef with comedies these days are I tend to find them predictable, not funny or something I know will not hold up on further viewings. And then there's O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a comedy I can and will recommend.
First and foremost, the film is funny. It's actually laugh-out-loud funny in parts. The allusions to Homer's The Odyssey are sometimes overt (Big Dan Teague as a reference to the Cyclops) and other times subtle but hilarious. For example, I laughed aloud when I realized the reference to The Odyssey in the scene with the KKK was to the scene where Odysseus thwarts the cyclops. In The Odyssey, the protagonist hides under sheep. In Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, the protagonists hide as Klan members, thus the gag is that the KKK are a bunch of sheep, which I think is both true and hilarious. It works out quite well in the film, but without knowing The Odyssey, that specific humorous poke, for one, is lost.
That is not to say one must be a mythology scholar to get the most out of the film. In addition to The Odyssey, the allusions are to Southern U.S. mythology. If one is not versed in that, which I've never been, one loses some allusions as well.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a film about Ulysses Everett McGill, a Southern gentleman and his two companions from the chain gang, Pete and Delmar. Ulysses organizes an escape from the chain gang with the other two and attempts to get through Mississippi to his wife. Along the way, the trio encounters many obstacles including Southern Baptists, seductive washerwomen, and a vicious bible salesman. In addition, the three fugitives are hunted by the sheriff from whom they escaped.
The film is a modern (Depression Era) adaptation of the Greek classic The Odyssey. Ulysses is an intellectual and a con artist of sorts, attempting to be something he probably is not. He swindles his companions into the jail break on false pretenses and his constant elitism over a specific type of hair pomade indicate a desire to be a different class of man than the felon he is. His wife, Penny, seems to recognize the truth, though she clearly needs convincing.
The film is a journey and the peripheral characters tend to be allusions more than actually fleshed out individuals. They are an eclectic collection of classic (Big Dan as the Cyclops) and American (George Nelson and Tommy Johnson in lieu of Robert Johnson) history and mythology. These characters are less drawn out and more fitting an image than I usually prefer.
Outside of the cameo by Michael Badaluco (of The Practice, here he appears as the psychotic George Nelson), none of the acting is particularly wonderful. I have high expectations for John Turturro and he probably slid right under them or met them, but did not exceed them. George Clooney, on the other hand, I have no expectations for and he met them, but did not exceed them. He plays an excellent character, but seemed to bring little to the role. Of all the actors in the film, I expect a lot of Michael Badaluco and he delivered more than I anticipated. His character is so very different from Jimmy on The Practice and he pulls it off so perfectly; it's truly what a great actor does.
Ulysses, however, is well defined as a character and the reasons to watch the film are clear. It's an intelligently-written comedy. It's refreshing. The soundtrack fits the film perfectly and while it is almost always noticeable, it is never overbearing. The washed look of the film is also wonderful. It gives everything a dry, burned appearance that is appropriate to the story and character.
And in the final analysis, it's funny and I know when I see it next, I am going to enjoy it at least as much as I did the first time. Finally, a comedy I want to rewatch!
For other films with John Turturro, please visit my reviews of:
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen
The Luzhin Defence
For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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