O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2-Disc Special Edition) Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2-Disc Special Edition). Momentum have rereleased the disc incorporating the missing R1 extras, but is it worth a repurchase?

The Coen Brothers really achieved top marks with The Big Lebowski in this reviewer’s 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 deterred on the way, which involves being turned into frogs, 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 also 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 Sorrow 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. It loses its way a little in the third quarter, but by the conclusion the momentum has been regained. Some will hate it, many will love it, and if you fall into the latter category then well done for appreciating such a fine film.

Academy Awards 2000

Academy Award Nominations 2000
Best Adapted Screenplay – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins

On first viewings, the impression is that the picture quality is an absolutely flawless 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. However, on repeated viewings, some digital artefacting is present, particularly in the darker scenes. This doesn’t mar proceedings too much however, and the picture still maintains splendid colours that fully complements Roger Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography.


Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Nov 30, 2001

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