Tuesday, July 22, 2014

O' Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)

These days films based around ancient Greek mythology are few and far between. When we do get something it is more along the reboot of Clashof the Titans.  But every once in a while you get a movie that attempts to bring one of the classics to life. This time Joel and Ethan Coen took one of the most epic adventures ever written and turned it into a 1930s style screwball comedy road trip film. How the heck was this going to turn out?

Ulysses Everett (George Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (John Tuturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) just escaped from a chain gang and are one the run! Everett know where a treasure is buried, and he is leading his comrades to its location. Along the way they are pursued by a determined sheriff (who may be Satan), encounter lovely sirens, do battle with a giant one eye bible salesman, and get mistaken for a trio of black singers.

Through the long journey, Everett is hiding a secret from his friends. His true goal it to get back home to his loving wife Penny, and protect her from an aggressive suitor. But there are dangers around every corner including a run in with George “Babyface” Nelson (Michael Badalucco), a lynch mob and the lotus eaters… I mean a Baptist congregation. Can our man of constant sorrow make it back home and find the treasure?

Good Points:
  • A wonderful merging of “The Odyssey” and 1930s filmmaking
  • Fun performances by the entire cast
  • Lot of humor and quotable dialogue throughout

Bad Points:
  • If you are not a fan of old time country music this movie will hurt
  • Major liberties taken with the source material
  • The screwball style may not appeal to everyone

This movie surprised the hell out of me. I managed to catch it about halfway through and it just pulled me in (in spite of not liking country music much at all). I made a point to rent the film and see it from the beginning and it has been a favorite ever since. The style of the film combined with “The Odyssey” is like chocolate and peanut butter. It is endlessly quotable, has so many fun performances and just leaves you with a smile on your face. Makes for a fun double feature with The Hudsucker Proxy.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 5
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. Enjoyable flick. The Coen brothers rarely fail to do something weirdly interesting.

    The title, of course, comes from "Sullivan's Travels" (1941) in which Joel McCrae plays a director who is tired of making commercially popular comedies that have no social relevance. To the annoyance of his producers he wants to make a serious, socially conscious, and almost certainly nonprofitable movie about the poor called "O' Brother Where art Thou?" Never having been poor, he tries experiencing life as a hobo. He eventually learns that poor and oppressed people are as much in need of some escapist comedy as as anyone, so he had been doing something useful after all.

    1. You know, I'd heard the title came from another movie, but I'd forgotten which one. Thanks for the reminder. Sounds like an interesting film, and one that actually connects a bit to this one.

  2. The last time I was in Austin, I met up with a friend and over brunch we talked about the Coen brother's films for a bit. I think O Brother (and Raising Arizona or the Dude) might be his favorite ones of the bunch or at the top. I think he leaned more towards their comedy, screwball (you don't see that approach much in movies these days) efforts, while I lean a bit more towards their darker, introspective work ie. No Country, Fargo, or even Inside Llewyn Davis. But I think we both enjoyed most of their stuff all the same.

    I agree with Richard's comment above they seemed to have a knack of offering something weird or bizarre whether it's a line of dialogue or a surreal scene. One that stands out for me is when the Big Lebowski has the dream with chorus girls and the Kenny Roger & the First Edition song playing in the background.

    I've never thought about O Brother being related to Greek myth.

    1. Yeah, I really enjoy most of their films, but the comedies appeal to me the most. "O Brother" is a real favorite around my house, but we also enjoy "Hudsucker Proxy" and "Big Lebowski" a great deal too. I need to give "Barton Fink" another spin, that one really came out of no where for me. Not sure what I thought of it when it ended.

      There are a lot of connections to "The Odyssey", plot wise is the most obvious, but there are also a few other hints. There is a bust of Homer in a restaurant in one scene. The rival candidate is named Homer Stokes, but I know a few folks who think he looks more like Homer from "The Simpsons". The three sirens are actually a combination of the Sirens and the sorceress Circe. They sing our boys to sleep and then turn one into an animal :)