Everyone loves the Coen Brothers, surely? Over the last two decades, the oddball pair have produced some of the weirdest and most wonderful movies ever to have come out of America – quirky yet accessible, and always with a streak of deliciously black humour running throughout.
The Coens have given us that modern icon, Jeff Bridges’ White Russian-supping bowling layabout The Dude in their biggest hit, The Big Lebowski. Then, in no particular order, there’s the delightfully odd story of an unlikely childless couple, one a cop, one a robber, who steal a baby, Raising Arizona; the story of a small-town guy who moves to the big city and invents the hula-hoop in The Hudsucker Proxy; a richly-shot piece of gangster movie excellence with Miller’s Crossing; a film almost entirely about writer’s block, and set almost exclusively in a hotel that may be hell on earth in Barton Fink; a film about a man who hires someone to kill his wife (Blood Simple) and another, Oscar-winning one about a man who hires someone merely to kidnap his wife (Fargo); the beautiful black and white film noir about a taciturn barber, The Man Who Wasn’t There; and, of course, a 1930s-set screwball road movie based on a combination of Homer’s Odyssey and folk music (O Brother Where Art Thou?). Pick any Coen brothers film at random and you’re going to find a masterpiece.
At least, that was always the case up until the last few years. Because, of course, their last two movies have been distinct disappointments – so much so, that many of their fans had begun to give up all hope of a return to form. It almost seemed as if some kind of dire mid-life crisis may have set in or, worse, that they may finally have sold out.
The George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones courtroom comedy Intolerable Cruelty was, on its 2003 release, their only truly mainstream, regular, unimaginative movie. Despite the occasional Coen flourish, the script was unusually weak, the jokes obvious, and something was lacking in their normally perfectly-composed visual style. Following up the next year with an unnecessary remake of the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, with Tom Hanks on unusually poor form, the best run of any movie-making partnership in years appeared to have come to an end.
So the expectation for the next Coen brothers film have long been tempered with a distinct feeling of dread that rather than third time lucky, their next offering might just be the final proof that their talent has deserted them.
The collective sigh of relief with the release of this latest Coen outing is, in other words, palpable. The phrase “return to form” was invented for moments such as these, with the brothers producing one of their finest films in a career packed with more than its fair share of outstanding movies. Following a classic Coen hero who unwittingly gets mixed up with criminal goings on beyond his worst nightmares, and with a villain – in Oscar-tipped Javier Barden’s cold-hearted hitman – among one of the most gloriously over-the-top creations seen on screen, this is a near perfect effort from the sibling auteurs. A chase movie involving three men who barely see each other, traversing the wild expanses of the Midwest, for newcomers to the Coens it is an ideal introduction to a type of filmmaking like no other. For long-term fans, this will soon join their earlier works amongst that wonderful list of life-long favourites. A must-see movie for anyone with a love of quality cinema.