By: Kevin Jordan
The second best Odyssey ever.
My editor tasked us with reviewing the Coen Brothers’ films and, since I’d rather read Twilight novels than sit through almost their entire filmography, I volunteered to re-watch O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the one film of theirs worth watching more than once. Yeah, I said it. I also think Quentin Tarantino films are juvenile, gratuitous, self-congratulating tripe. So, enjoy the one time I don’t shit all over any of those men’s films.
(Note: I am writing this review while watching the film, so it’s going to have a bit of a different flow to it than usual. You’re welcome.)
I will say one thing about Coen Brother movies – they sure love sepia tones and it works extremely well in this film. Also, I just noticed all of the little pictures in the corners of the credit boxes in the film’s opening, foreshadowing upcoming scenes. Nice.
If you are not familiar with Homer’s The Odyssey, this is a great way to get a glimpse of it. The reason this movies stands out for me above all other Coen movies is probably because the story and its structure were written for the Coens two millennia ago and they simply had to modernize it. Just the way the main plot is revealed throughout the first sixteen minutes is better than anything else they’ve written.
The introduction of Tommy (the guitar player who sold his soul to the devil, played by Chris Thomas King) pays a little tribute to North by Northwest, one of my personal favorite classics. It also includes one of my favorite lines in the film, when Everett (George Clooney) gleefully notes that he is the only neutral religious man in the car, with Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) having just been baptized. Of course, the scene takes on renewed weight in the year 2020 with Tommy describing the devil as a white man – “as white as you folks with empty eyes and a deep hollow voice.” I don’t know who your brain immediately conjured, but mine went straight to Mitch McConnell. *shudder*
Baby Face Nelson, the Great Depression, the Ku Klux Klan (later), a hit song that makes them wealthy (later) – this movie is Forrest Gump does the depression.
The siren scene is a masterpiece. The haunting music, the strikingly beautiful women, the callback to the river being their salvation and now their downfall, the soothing sound of the river blending with the lyrics of the siren’s song to lull the men to sleep, and, oohhh, the different facial expressions of the three men. Pete’s raw, animal lust, Everett’ bewilderment, and Delmar looking like a virgin on prom night who has already orgasmed at the mere sight of a scantily clad, wet woman.
Poor Pete the toad.
Yes, the two men on Pappy’s (Charles Dunning) porch were debating the proper word to describe how they were getting their asses handed to them in the campaign for governor. This is probably the conversation in many 2020 Republican campaign headquarters, except they are not even remotely as self-aware.
Watching several dozen Klan members perform a dance looks uncomfortably close to what marching bands do at half time during college football games. Sorry band people, the Klan really does ruin everything.
Speaking of dancing, John Turturro’s dance while they sing “In the Jailhouse Now” is the best. Shoulder shrugs and his hands doing…whatever the hell that is. And to follow up with yodeling? Priceless. It is also worth noting that the way Clooney dances during “Man of Constant Sorrow” is how I look when I dance.
And the water returns to save them once more. Even the callbacks have callbacks. And there goes the oracle on his handcart. A small tear may have just rolled down my cheek.
I have seen this film several times, but I enjoy it just as much every time. If there is one thing that stood out this time it is that Tim Blake Nelson is sneaky great as Delmar. All three lead characters are sympathetic in different ways, but Delmar is the only one of the three who isn’t also kind of wank. His main role is comedic relief, but he is such a lovable character. No better is this evident than his sincere belief that being dunked in a river absolves him of his sins, including lying about his original crime.
I am glad I decided to watch this film again and, at some point, need to go back and reread The Odyssey. What I remember of it was the stories were interesting, but not that fun to read. Learning about The Odyssey and the morals Homer thought were important are clearly more fun in film format. But, neither of these is the best telling of The Odyssey. For that, check out The Natural. Yeah, I said it.
Rating: Ask for a dollar back. I told you O Brother was only the second best Odyssey.