O Brother, Where Art Thou? Review

The Film

The Coen Brothers really achieved top marks with The Big Lebowski in my opinion. Yes, they received their highest accolades through their previous effort of Fargo, but that film although clever was cold both in landscape and in emotion. Lebowski however, gushed with rich humour and spectacularly three dimensional characters with a script that seems better on repeated viewings.

Thankfully, their follow up O Brother, Where Art Thou? has been constructed with a Lebowski cap on rather than a Fargo one, and in the process O Brother is a film whereby you have a constant smile on your face throughout its hundred and three minute running time.

The premise is typically ludicrous, and thus typically Joel and Ethan Coen – it’s the early twentieth century and three convicts have just escaped from a chain gang. Lead by the charismatic yet vain Everett Ulysses Mcgill (played in a wonderful comic performance by George Clooney), the trio that also consists of Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete (Coen regular John Turturro) set out on an ‘odyssey’ to recover lost treasure on the twisted and surreal road ahead of them. As is the norm with Coen movies, the trio manage to somehow be detoured on the way, which involves being turned into frog, gate-crashing a Klan meeting, becoming pop radio stars and being used as political pawns!

What is so funny about O Brother, Where Art Thou? is that it is supposed to be based on Homer’s Odyssey, even though the Coen Brothers have allegedly never read it! But then these were the people who claimed Fargo was based on true events and lied and released the director’s cut of Blood Simple with more scenes cut than before!

What is so remarkable about O Brother, Where Art Thou? is that every aspect of the production is top notch. The acting by the three leads of Clooney, Turturro and Nelson are so believable and convincing that it’s a miraculously inspired piece of casting. Clooney is especially a breath of fresh air as Everett, and he should have been Oscar nominated, especially considering he won a Golden Globe for his performance. Although the actors mimed for their musical numbers and other voices were used, it is nice to know that Tim Blake Nelson sung his own vocals, and should be respected for that. The script by the Coens has the obligatory world class one liners and uniquely structured depth that is so lacking in most of the Hollywood movies of today. The cinematography by the underrated Roger Deakins is stunning and how he lost the Oscar to Peter Pau for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is anyone’s guess. The use of natural yellows and greens complements the film fully, and Deakins should have been honoured for that.

Probably the most famous aspect of the film however, is the wonderful Bluegrass soundtrack, featuring stand out cuts of I Am A Man Of Constant Sorror and Down In The River To Pray. The soundtrack is the perfect partner to the narrative structure of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and a recommended CD purchase. Pity an isolated score option wasn’t available on the DVD.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

is a witty, inventive, original masterpiece of twenty first century cinema. Some will hate it, but if you like it then well done to you.

The Disc

An absolutely flawless 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation with splendid colours that fully complements Roger Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography. Momentum once again show that when they pad out their extras they will ultimately become a distributor to be reckoned with.

Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the sound is crystal clear and features some nice atmospheric effects as well as good use of available audio space for songs such as Down In The River To Pray. Alas, the R2 doesn’t have the DTS soundtrack that adorns the R1 version, but this is only a minor quibble as the soundtrack is still very good.

Cast And Crew Interviews: Cast and Crew interviews featuring all of the major players. It essentially feels more like a press kit than anything else, as the questions appear as text on screen and the interviewees are then shown answering the question. This is not the most ideal approach, but there are some nice insights to learn, such as the origins of the name of the film.

Trailer & TV Spots: I do sympathise for the marketing department as O Brother, Where Art Thou? must have been extremely hard to market towards the mass target segment. The trailers make the film look like a mess, and it makes you appreciate the fact that you followed your instinct and watched the film anyway.

The disc does not match the R1 version in the sound or extras front (as the R1 also contains storyboard to screen featurette and Soggy Bottom Boys music video) but is still a worthy purchase for a flawless visual transfer and a fantastic night’s worth of entertainment – Coen style.

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