Monday, July 29, 2013

Intolerable Cruelty, 2003

Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Robert Ramsey & Matthew Stone and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Starring George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones

This movie is a favorite among favorites (and it's in The Pantheon, of course). Along with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, this is my favorite cat-and-mouse movie.

The acting is, across the board, wonderful. Of course George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are good, but this movie wouldn't be what it is without Geoffrey Rush ("I'm in a meeting!"), Billy Bob Thornton ("Honey, do I look worried?"), Cedric the Entertainer ("You want tact? Call a tactician."), Paul Adelstein ("Baby field greens"), Richard Jenkins ("Your Honor, this is harassment, and, frankly, it's still a little arty-farty."), Edward Herrmann ("Is that possible?") and so many others.

And they obviously wouldn't be so good if it weren't for the writing. The universe of this movie is so filled with lying that it's easy not to notice how often it happens. When George Clooney unknowingly repeats the lie that someone (no spoiler here) has died in a business meeting when we clearly know otherwise, it's just a reminder that they are all filled with, as Big Daddy would say, mendacity.

The Coen brothers really outdid themselves with this movie. The pacing is great, look is great, and even the little touches are great -- things like "Living without Intestines" magazine. That's part of the reason why this movie holds up so well after repeated viewings, and I speak from experience.

A lot of reviews compared this movie to screwball comedies, but, while their influence is evident, it's a product of now. It's just as much fun watching George Clooney go through trouble as our modern Cary Grant, but those movies (The Awful Truth, for example) are about a world that isn't greedy the way this one is. That some of the main action happens at a divorce lawyers' convention in Las Vegas, versus swanky and relatively innocent apartments and nightclubs in '30's New York is telling enough. So much of this movie is about cupidity versus Cupid that the Coen brothers may have left out that pun as a sign that it was too obvious.

Intolerable Cruelty at IMDB.


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