Dan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Dune video review HERE.
“We’re in a tight spot, boys!”
What could’ve so easily been a run of the mill comedy about some escaped convicts searching for treasure is elevated so much in a number of ways.
The film takes place in the 1930’s (I think) and so racism is rife, but the subtle ways in which it is explored alongside the morality of our characters is so interesting. For instance, our heroes are - by the letter of the law - criminals, and yet are about the only people in this film to not treat Tommy any differently because of his skin colour. Just because something’s legal, doesn’t make it right, and just because someone’s a criminal, doesn’t make them bad. The blurring of ethical lines is ever-present, but never in your face.
I also enjoyed the symbolism of shackles, and the idea of being connected to people in life that you may not want to be - whether it’s fellow prisoners being literally chained together, or despisable family members that we feel obliged to keep in our lives.
But aside from the existential / nihilistic themes, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is pretty damn funny! I loved Clooney’s character’s obsession with his hair looking and smelling good, despite the much more important things going on.
The Coen brothers also have a knack for making what could be a generic scene feel fresh with a twist. Example: they’re on the run, they get stopped by someone with a gun who wants to use them. The interesting part? It’s a child.
And then at a certain point in the film - without giving anything away - the rug gets pulled from under both the characters and the audience, and suddenly everything we’ve just watched feels insignificant. The scene I’m talking about (you’ll know if you’ve seen it) is a great example of both how to set stakes, and use an unreliable narrator.
This being a pseudo-musical, it’s important that the songs are catchy, in tone with the film and inform character. Guess what? They are and do! I’ve never once in my life optionally listened to country music, but I was enjoying the hell out of some of the music in this!
The dialogue is really quirky and witty. Clooney’s character is verbose and clever, and he knows it, especially compared to the company he keeps. This made for some really memorable - almost poetic - dialogue at times.
Like I say, it’s a funny film on surface level with some good music, but if you want to dig a little deeper there are themes surrounding religion, politics, racism, and so much more. There’s also an impressive extended cast here.
I remember seeing the trailer for this and really not thinking it looked very good. I’m glad to say I was wrong!