Thursday, February 19, 2009

DVD: Intolerable Cruelty

Director: Joel Coen
Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Billy Bob Thornton
Year made: 2003

A strange turn this from the Coens, a turn that isn’t necessarily going to be to the liking of fans of the brothers’ ‘traditional’ fare. Intolerably Cruelty represents a move towards something a little more mainstream and – dare we say it? – normal…
Sure, it’s got George Clooney in it and, yes, it’s a love story, but it has just enough Coen kookiness streaking through it to maintain an edge. The most notable absence is that intangible, unexplainable oddness that leaves you happily shrugging your shoulders at the end of their movies. In its place is a coherent script and rounded story that even your granny could follow.

Clooney is a living reincarnation of Cary Grant with a twist of Everett McGill (his character in the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as divorce lawyer Miles Massey. But for all his victories, Massey is still missing something from his life – love. When he finally meets his match in Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) Massey is “fascinated” to the point of obsession. Zeta- Jones plays her character with relish, thriving on the media imposed role of golddigging deceptress. Along the road the brothers flirt with their usual rainbow arc of vibrant sideshow players and a good dose of clean-cut (for the most part) screwball comedy.

Barely propping up the DVD are two short featurettes and a collection of outtakes. This particular collection of on-set balls-ups is particularly tiresome and more irritating than funny, unless you like to hear some guy prattle on about ‘berry spoon’ repeatedly 20-odd times in a row.

‘A Look Inside Intolerable Cruelty’ is a disappointing back-slapping exercise by everyone involved – “Oh, George is so great to work with,” and “Aren’t the Coen brothers so admirable?” and so forth. Descriptions of characters are so shallow that you learn more watching the film for five minutes than you do in these 12. For us to squander any breath on a featurette about the wardrobe just wastes time that would be better spent asking the question: why won’t two of the most talented filmmakers out there share a little more with the fans who have put them where they are?

Has its moments, but never fires on all cylinders.

Film: 3 stars
Extras: 2 stars

Special features:
• ‘A Look Inside Intolerable Cruelty’ featurette
(10 mins)
• ‘The Wardrobe’ featurette (5 mins)
• Outtakes

If you like this whey not try…

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
A brilliantly fun movie by the Coens about three convicts with musical talent.

This review first appeared in DVD Review issue #61