O Brother, Where Art Thou?
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is loosely based on Homer’s classic novel The Odyssey, set in 1937 rural Mississippi, the story is about Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) who claims that he buried $1.2 million in treasure that he stole from an armored car before he was arrested. He sets out to break from his chain gang along with Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) to go find the treasure and restart his life. The three bumbling fugitives go through twists and turns and adventures similar to Odysseus, all along finding what he was really searching for, which was the heart of his family.
This film is undeniably a Coen brother’s film; it has their essence and vibe interwoven throughout it, filled with dark humor, irony, music that inspires emotion, themes of greed and corruption and quirky characters. The film is dark like Fargo, kind of funny in a weird way like Big Lebowski and soulful like Inside Llewyn Davis. What sets this one apart from the rest is that it is almost reminiscent of a Vaudevillian film, where actors like Buster Keaton or Abbott and Costello would get themselves into hijinks and mischief, creating grandiose gestures with their faces and bodies. This film embodies that type of acting, almost depicting these characters as similar loveable scoundrels.
Throughout their adventures, they come upon such interesting figures such as Tommy Johnson (really Robert Johnson), the blues man who sold his soul to the devil and the infamous outlaw Babyface Nelson. The three loose prisoners are up for anything and get distracted easily by the thought of making more money. From Johnson, they get a tip that if they record a song with at the local radio station with him they can make some quick cash. They perform as the Soggy Bottom Boys and unbeknown to them their song becomes a hit.
On the road, they continue to encounter speed bumps in the way, at one point they are distracted by a baptism occurring down the road and even three sirens who sing an enchanting song that lures Pete away and Delmar believes that they have changed him into a toad. They also come upon a one-eyed Bible salesman Daniel “Big Dan” Teauge (John Goodman) who proceeds to try to steal their possessions.
Each encounter only furthers to push Everett to find his estranged wife, Penny (Holly Hunter) and when he does he realizes that she no longer wants him. She told their daughters that he was hit by a train and tries to push him away the best she can. All along in the background of the film is the hunt to find the Soggy Bottom Boys, their hit song is causing a frenzy and music producers are eager to pick them up, if only they can find these mysterious singers.
Along the way we start to realize that what Everett really wanted was to be closer to his wife and win her back. She pushes and prods, but it is obvious she still loves him. At the heart of the story and like Odysseus, Everett’s intention the whole time was to get back home and be with his family.
My favorite scenes were the ones when the Soggy Bottom Boys performed. They were silly, yet very melodic and it added in giving the film that bluegrass down south feel to it. Another aspect I enjoyed was Everett’s insistence on finding his Dapper Dan hair pomade, his obsession with his hair was pretty comical in itself. As he says, “I don’t want Fop, I’m a Dapper Dan man!” Clooney gave a great performance and it only goes to show what a diverse actor he is and his ability to pull off being both dramatic, yet comical. Turturro and Nelson were great as his sidekicks as well and Goodman always delivers in a Coen brother’s film.
Some of the scenes seemed a bit haphazard and like they didn’t belong or seem significant, that would be only complaint. Overall a great movie and I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Coen brothers.