Well, I have got to hand it to Joel and Ethan Coen. These guys never fail to amaze me! O Brother, Where Art Thou? continues the Coen brother's formula of setting a film genre on its ear, filling it with every icon the chosen genre and setting is known for, then making it funny as all get-out! This time, it's the comedic style of director Preston Sturges that bears the brunt of the Coen's legendary lunacy.
Set in America, circa 1937, O Brother is a grand musical Odyssey through the depression-era South. George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, a Clark Gable wanna-be, who, along with his compatriots, Pete and Delmar, played by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson, have just escaped from a prison chain-gang. They now find themselves on a quest across the great state of Mississippi. In their travels they encounter all manner of saints and sinners, beasts and beauties. Some are saved and some are lost along the way, as the paths to salvation and damnation can appear mighty similar, depending on your situation.
Throughout their journey, the wonderful sounds of the South are in bountiful supply. And I'm not talking about that new-fangled Yankee band racket, mind you, but that old-timey back woods music all the folks seem to enjoy so much. Men and music collide, on more than one occasion, and always with marvelous results. Throw in a couple of Southern politicians on the campaign warpath, and, sake's alive, you have yourself one bona-fide American epic. I shall refrain from divulging more of the story, lest its true secrets be revealed.
Joel Coen's direction is spot-on, as he deftly weaves the many loosely connected plot threads of Ethan Coen's excellent screenplay. His attention to detail is equally flawless, as he gives the audience virtually everything ever associated with the American South. Perhaps apologies are in order to the state of Mississippi, or perhaps from it, for how the South is comically represented in this film.
George Clooney, for me the only 'wild card' of the cast, was fantastic. This is his most un-Clooney performance, and as a result, it's his very best. George should cease wasting his career with action roles, for his strengths lie in mirth, not mayhem!
Also in the cast are many Coen film veterans, including John Turturro, John Goodman, Charles Durning, and Holly Hunter. The performances by each were dead-on perfect. The standout, besides Clooney, was Tim Blake Nelson, as the seemingly slow-witted Delmar. Many of the funniest moments of the film feature his character's attempts to simply absorb the circumstances of, and possible redemption for, his tumultuous, crime-filled life. Ulysses and Pete are certainly no help to him in this endeavor.
So, I do declare, this one's a keeper. If you have enjoyed the work of the Coen brothers in the past, then you're sure to get quite a hoot, as well as a holler, from this outing. If you are not yet familiar with the Coens, you may wish to peruse some of their other fine moving pictures. I recommend Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, and Fargo for starters. The more adventurous can move on to Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy and The Big Lebowski (my personal favorite).