O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The new Coen Brothers (Fargo) flick. The Robbins report: "Blazing Saddles" meets "Grapes of Wrath"

Y'know, I have mixed feelings about this dotty Depression comedy about three hicks who escape from a chain gang. On the one hand, I absolutely loved it. It is a color recreation of the comedies of that era, capturing their mood, their music, their look, their period detail, their off-kilter humor, and their conventions. It even has Clark Gable, reincarnated as lookalike George Clooney. It isn't a parody of the genre, but an homage, flavored just a bit by the Coens' winking knowledge of how things really turned out.

In the 1930's, for example, they would not have had the KKK do a Busby Berkley routine while intoning something similar to the flying monkey chant from Wizard of Oz. The Wiz itself didn't even come along until 1939, and the Klan was then a subject of intense hatred or even respect, but not dismissive derision, and even Mel Brooks didn't do this kind of material until the 70's. So the Coen Brothers let some modern references and attitudes sneak in, as well they might. No harm done.


none at all
All the performers in this were tremendous at recaptuiring the feel of that period, especially Clooney. That guy really has a lot of talent. He found just the right tone of sincerity and seriousness to get the true humor in the role. When people first started to notice Clooney, I thought he was a generic likeable hunky guy, sort of an updated version of Tom Selleck, but I was wrong. He can deliver whatever performance is needed from him, and he has some genuine charisma. He is a real star, at that.

A bit of trivia- this road adventure is loosely structured upon the first road adventure of all time - Homer's Odyssey. But that's just a fun thing. There's blind prophets and one-eyed giants and a trio of singin' sluts, but there's no deep significance to it.

But this damned film is a true masterpiece. And I was originally prepared to hate it from the trailers and hype.

"But, Scoop, you said you had mixed feelings". Yes, true enough. My reflective side says "who the hell is the audience for this movie?". How does it reach past the nutburgers like me who mark up the TV listings to watch the American Movie Classics when Gable and Harlow are on? I don't know. It seems to me the audience is small, restricted to hardcore film buffs, but those who like it will like it very much. I'd love to see it become a hit, but I doubt that it is possible, despite the Coen's reputation. I'll be surprised if there's that much of a buzz from the younger generations about this version of Homer meets the Three Stooges.

In fact, some of the reviews from devoted Coen admirers seemed to feel that this was not worthy of their efforts. I guess this is because the brothers seem to have deserted their hardcore fans. They have eschewed their usual aloof disdain for their characters, in order to make a film with a mushy sentimental core, like the 30's material, and like Mel Brooks. Personally, I like seeing the boys show a little heart, because they maintain just the right amount of distance from the corny stuff in this film, and they balance the more sentimental material with just the right jaunty patter.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1. Excellent transfer. 

  • mimimal features - a brief featurette on the making of

Cool! Very nice job, lads.

The title is a tip of the hat to legendary Hollywood director Preston Sturges, whose lead character in "Sullivan's Travels" wanted to redeem a life of making lowbrow comedies by making a serious picture about the plight of the working man - "O, Brother, Where Art Thou""

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 74% positive overall, 63% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 8.0, in the top 250 or all time.
  • with their $ ... the domestic gross was a very respectable $44 million, on a budget of $26 million. This was quite remarkable for a film which was never shown on more than 847 screens. (About one fourth as many as major blockbusters)
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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