Cast & Crew info:
Cedric the Entertainer
Billy Bob Thornton
Howard D. Doyle
Produced by John
Cameron, Ethan Coen, Sean Daniel, Robert Graf, Brian Grazer,
Grant Heslov, James Jacks and James Whitaker; Directed
by Joel Coen; Screenwritten by Robert Ramsey, Matthew
Stone, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
(US); Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and
brief violence; Running Time - 100 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
October 10, 2003
by DAVID KEYES
a wise man a few dollars and he'll probably invest them
into something worthwhile; give the money to the Coen brothers,
and chances are you'll watch it whirl down the drain. Those
peculiar, ironic directors of films like "Fargo"
and "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" are heavily
influenced by quirks and oddities when it comes to moviemaking
some of it too brilliant for words but when
their style is tuned under the influence of a Hollywood-sized
budget, the results can be less than satisfying. Consider
their last endeavor "The Man Who Wasn't There,"
a film noir vehicle saturated by the prospect of being shot
in gorgeous black and whiteonce you strip away the
uncanny sense of style, the movie itself lacks personality
and rhythm. On the other hand, a film with such subtle traces
of financial backing as "Fargo" is quite inverted;
though technique isn't exactly cutting edge, the amount
of thought applied to the screenplay is so grand that nothing
else matters. There is no denying that the Coen brothers
are satisfactory directors at the core, but do they truly
know what it takes to establish consistency?
reality of "Intolerable Cruelty" is anchored somewhere
between offbeat character study and dark romance comedy,
but that's a side detail here, both for the filmmakers and
those on screen. Like the most prominent Doris Day vehicles
of the mid-1960s, this is simply an exhibition of actors,
whose mere presence on screen creates this mesmerizing aura
that keeps the viewers intoxicated even when the material
turns sour (that is, if anyone is paying attention to it
in the first place). George Clooney stars as Miles Massey,
a cutthroat divorce lawyer who, early on in the picture,
is helping his latest client fine-tune (or more appropriately,
fabricate) damaging details before she takes her estranged
husband to court. This practice of manipulation, we gather,
is one he has down to a science, inevitably to be repeated
shortly thereafter when Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) comes
to his firm seeking a divorce from his bitter wife Marilyn
(Catherine Zeta-Jones). Miles loves challenges, and the
primary goal with this latest case lies not in the fact
that he has to win it without a single cent from Rex's fortune
getting into Marilyn's hands, but in the fact that he has
to keep his apparent infatuation with the woman off of detectable
radar. As he so bluntly puts it to her after planting a
wet one on her willing lips, "you fascinate me."
the movie goes with this and what it entails to do so is
pretty much irrelevant; this is a chemistry movie that instigates
sparks at certain intervals and relishes in the opportunity
to allow its characters to have shrewd dialogue exchanges.
Unfortunately for the Coen brothers, their material is distracted
too often to make any noteworthy impression other than a
surface scratch. For starters, the movie's look is too polished
for the material; here you have characters deliberately
trying to one-up each other with all sorts of shrewd and
viscous legal maneuvers, and the picture is actually trying
to sell this elegant and innocent backdrop like it belongs
there. I'm all for irony and masking dirty little deeds
behind pretty pictures, but why is it needed here? "Intolerable
Cruelty" isn't about making things look sweet and innocent.
It is a bitter and stark endeavor that knows exactly how
cutthroat it wants to be.
brings us to the movie's second biggest crime: the actual
comedy. Laced with a dark wit that is more or less observant
for shock value, the screenplay is a humor gun without any
ammunition; it is mean-spirited, petty, bizarre and downright
cold in the way it tries to provoke laughter. There is one
scene late in the movie so grizzly that it baffled me to
every extent, mostly for the fact that so many others found
it funny. Though I won't give away the punchline here, I
will reveal this much: it involves a wheezing hitman who
is sprayed with enough mace to deter him from telling the
difference between an inhaler and a pistol. 'Nuff said.
is not a boring movie. This is not even a bad movie, either.
But it is, alas, a severely misguided one, and that's all
the more shameful when you consider who was involved in
making it, too. Looking back on the Coens' roster of achievements,
I find myself instantly referring back to "Fargo,"
which remains their best effort to this day. There was a
movie with an inarguable streak of dark comedy, but there
was also something genuine backing it as well, an incentive
to provoke thought and hold interest without seeming so
synthetic or plastic in the process. "Intolerable Cruelty"
doesn't have those qualities. But it does live up to its
title by being both cruel and intolerable, although not
necessarily in the redeeming ways one might hope for.
© 2003, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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