Film Talk: Looking Back – In a tight spot with O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Hollywood heavyweight George Clooney at his absolute finest. He’s a ‘Dapper Dan’ man, and what’s not to love?
Written, produced, co-edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a crime comedy-drama starring Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson.
Set in 1937 Mississippi during the Great Depression, its story is a modern satire loosely based on Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, which also incorporates mythology from the American South.
The title of the film is a reference to the Preston Sturges 1941 film Sullivan’s Travels, in which the protagonist is a director who wants to film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a fictional book about the Great Depression.
An intricate flick of hidden depths, the movie was in fact one of the first to extensively use digital colour correction to give the film a sepia-tinted, autumnal look, and it’s soundtrack – largely consisting of American folk music – won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2002.
An absolute cult classic, O Brother, Where Art Thou? blends hillbilly cool with one of the greatest legends ever told in an unlikely marriage that works sublimely.
Suave and persuasive convict Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney), escapes from incarceration but, alas, is chained to two other prisoners – short-tempered Pete (Turturro) and slow-witted Delmar (Nelson).
With the three forced to make their escape together, Everett convinces the other two that he has hidden away a $1.2 million fortune after robbing an armoured car, and pledges that he will split it with them if they join him.
In agreement, the trio hitch a ride with an elderly blind man on a railway handcar, who foretells that the companions will indeed discover a treasure, though this treasure may not be the one they expect.
As the unlikely partners persevere with their quest, a variety of obstacles stand in their way – from bank robbers, devil-assisted guitar players, suspicious singing women, and a one-eyed salesman who may be a lot more than he seems.
But will the dangers be worth overcoming, or is there more to the story of the treasure than Everett has revealed?..
After having premiered at the AFI Film Festival, O Brother, Where Art Thou? went on to gross over $71,800,000 worldwide off its $26 million budget.
With superb turns from Clooney and Nelson, as well as a fantastically funny supporting performance from John Goodman, the film can be picked out as one of the cinematic gems of the turn of the millennium.
It showcases a brilliant take on a classic tale, a catalogue of acting talent, ingenuity in filming techniques, and a celebrated soundtrack that maintains the tone of the movie perfectly throughout.
Though not the most well-known or popular of the Coen brothers’ works, in its intricacies and intelligence O Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of their finest films to date.
Fans of George Clooney may see him in a new light, and those unfamiliar with Tim Blake Nelson will instantly adore him.
Without question, those familiar with The Odyssey will appreciate the brilliance with which elements of its classic plot are cleverly updated and woven into a 1930s setting.
If this flick proves one thing, its that the best stories really are timeless.
Well, that and that George Clooney is often in a ‘tight spot’.