This file was generated 2002-09-03 03:17 GMT. This movie's information hasn't changed since 2002-01-06.
Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> October 2001 >> O Brother, Where Art Thou
The Brothers Coen are known for getting great characterizations from their actors. The writing gives the actors a lot to work, especially in the form of verbal mannerisms, with which to make their roles interesting, and O Brother, Where Art Thou is no exception. The cast get to have fun with the idiosyncracies and the freedom to take the portrayal over the edge. With O Brother, the Coens have combined their usual flair for characters with a sprawling adventure through the Dust Bowl South. The three principals, played by George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and Coen favorite John Turturro, each get their share of comedic moments combined with some earnest, down-home acting.
The entire cast is enjoyable, and the usual Coen charm and humor are in evidence, but OBWAT falls a bit short of their best work. As outlandish as its plot elements were, Big Lebowski still felt like all of it could really happen. Hudsucker Proxy was more of a fantasy, but it made that readily apparent with absurdly rich set design and a gee-whiz enthusiasm of by-gone days from its characters. O Brother combines the believable core characters with the silly obligations of a Homerian epic, and the combination never clicked for me. I still found the movie enjoyable, and I have no reservations recommending it, but I just don't rank it as high overall.
O Brother does show off the Coen talent for exceptional production values. In a demonstration of wonderful, new technology, the entire film was adjusted for color by computer after the final edit. The result allows the film to look muddy and dusty with sun-burnt foliage, when everything was filmed in a very green Summer! In the production number department, the Coens stage, of all things, a Klan rally. It's an impressively disturbing scene because of the contrast between the hate brewing under all of those white cloaks and the glee with which they execute their ceremonies.
The most powerful aspect of O Brother is the music. The film is linked to its mostly-diagetic score in a far more thorough manner than most, and the music is, without exception, great. T-Bone Burnett assembled a terrific collection of bluegrass and spirituals that imbue scenes with otherworldly qualities even at their earthiest. Characters throughout are transformed by the music around them, especially evidenced when we hear "Down to the River to Pray" and "Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby". The performance footage of the concert shows an audience ready to forgive almost anything in the name of entertainment. Perhaps most importantly, the movie shows the prevelance of folk music in a pre-television world. A return to more homespun music and less junk assembled by businessmen instead of artists would be a remarkable thing, and this is the kind of movie that might encourage people to find a guitar somewhere and discover for themselves how powerful their own human voice can be.