The Ladykillers (2004) Review
The great war of the original vs. the Hollywood remake continues to rage on. The classic receiving such treatment on this occasion hails from the British Ealing comedy archives, with The Ladykillers being revamped for modern audiences by the highly acclaimed Coen Brothers. Remaining the same in title this remake has a very different look and feel to the original British offering, transporting events to America for starters - how Hollywood! Alas, before we continue down that well trodden path of the remake being another insult to the film industry, this is a Coen Brothers film and they haven’t dared put a foot wrong in their careers so far. Well, maybe Intolerable Cruelty might have been a little unusual for the brothers, so another move away from their conventional style may be a little more worrying than first imagined.
The quiet life of the charitable, church going, old Mrs Munson (Irma P. Hall) is disturbed one day by Professor G.H Dorr (Tom Hanks). Smartly dressed and clean cut, Dorr is a well schooled teacher from down south who has come to enquire about Mrs Munson’s vacant room advertisement. After sweet-talking and helping Mrs Munson rescue her precious cat, Dorr is allowed to have the room. Furthermore, the polite and noble Professor manages to gain the old ladies permission allowing his church music band to rehearse in the dank, spacious root cellar of her home. There’s nothing wrong with that now is there?
Looks however can be deceiving as Dorr has plans of his own hiding beneath the web of lies he’s managed to spin around Mrs Munson. He doesn’t have a band and like his associates is fairly useless at playing a musical instrument, so why the phoney church music pretence? Why, they are a group of criminals, we are led to believe, that have answered the Professor’s newspaper advert to get stinking rich. The criminal caper that the deceitful Professor has devised is a plot to rob a riverboat casino right from the very house they’re ‘rehearsing’ in. The professor has everything worked out; he plans to tunnel through the weakest wall of the cellar all the way to the underground casino vault.
Yes, it all seems so perfect. He’s got the right team for the job. Gawain McSam (Marlon Wayans) is working the casino so the professor knows his target. Garth Pancake (J.K Simmons) is the professor’s demolition expert providing all the C4, TNT, and machinery required for the job. The General (Tzi Ma) is a foreign tunnels specialist, a skill he acquired during the war. That leaves Lump Hudson, one of the strongest mindless oafs ever to grace the earth. He might have difficulties understanding what’s going on but he’s there for the Professor’s security if needed. Now all the group of criminals need to do is complete the job without disturbing the quiet life of Mrs Munson - and how hard can that be?
I will first be honest, as having never seen the original Ladykillers I can’t tell you if this remake is anything like the Ealing classic. That one, for now, will have to be debated among you readers. But since it is a remake, I’m pretty sure the majority will deem this to be nothing like the original and question why it was made in the first place. Regardless, having seen most of the Coen Brothers films like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty and The Man Who Wasn’t There; The Ladykillers has their usual merits. For anyone who enjoyed the dark comedies from these two brothers, The Ladykillers fits very well into this genre despite the light appearance of the film. You’ll probably understand this when you watch the final half hour after Professor Dorr and his cronies have more problems to deal with than just Mrs Munson unearthing their plot. It may not be their most original or best piece of work but it will entertain anyone looking for a good laugh – it’s here to entertain and it does the job.
Once again, the Coen Brothers have also done well in their selection of music. The soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? was superb and The Ladykillers follows suit with a collection of gospel soul songs that fit the community in which the story plays out very well, not as brilliantly as the former but still very catchy.
The Coen Brothers never seem to go wrong with casting in their films and The Ladykillers is no exception. The actors are good fun to watch especially Tom Hanks who is wonderfully cast as Professor Dorr, the eccentric, well schooled version of KFC’s colonel Sanders. This is a role he seems to relish after having done so many successful drama pieces and it’s good to see him as a moustache-twirling villain. It’s also quite clear why Irma P. Hall went down well at Cannes winning the jury prize this year for her part in the film. She’s loveable and easily likeable as the aged Mrs Munson who really does smite those who use the hippy hop language.
The Ladykillers will once again fuel the debate on the importance of remakes in the film industry but I haven’t seen the original and approached this with an open mind. The latest offering from the Coen’s is a great dark comedy, even if it doesn’t match the crazy wackiness of their previous films. It probably won’t be a smash hit but the Coen Brothers haven’t disappointed me here. Hanks and his fellow cast are excellent in this small comedy gem that I think many people will enjoy seeing. I very much recommend The Ladykillers remake – regardless if you’ve seen the original or not.