I was listening to the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? yesterday, as I do, and it made me wonder why I’d yet to put pen to paper/hand to keyboard and let you all know why it just so happens to be one of the best and most enjoyable films I’ve seen to date. I can’t remember where I first saw it, all I know is it was many years ago and that since then it has ascended to a position in my top three (the other two being Goodfellas and Midnight in Paris). It’s written, directed, and produced by those talents that are Joel and Ethan Coen, and stars George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro, and John Goodman, among others. A tale of three men on a quest to find a buried treasure (in more ways than one), you can’t do much better than O Brother if you like Depression-era adventures involving bank robbers, one-eyed bible salesmen, the KKK, old-timey music, and a toad.
Already you’ve got the making for a great adventure; three men on the run from the law in a race against time to find a fortune that may-or-may not-even exist. Along the way, they’re met by all the classic characters from The Odyssey, who you’ll recognise if you’ve read it for one reason or another. Coen regular John Goodman is the infamous Cyclops, reincarnated as the one-eyed “bible salesman” Big Dan Teague. The blind seer who prophesises both Odysseus’ future in the original and Everett’s in the film is a lonesome old man who travels the railroads of the Deep South on a handcar, and the sirens that originally seduce The Odyssey’s protagonist are a trio of alluring washer women who are single-handedly responsible for one of the most memorable sequences of the film (“We. Thought. You. Was. A… Toad?”).
Another great feature of the film is its soundtrack. Supported throughout by an eclectic and atmospheric collection of old-timey, blues, Americana and country music, the soundtrack was so successful in itself that it sprung a spin-off concert and tour, called Down From The Mountain (available as a standalone DVD).
Clooney steals the show in his role as Everett, partly because the Coen brothers have the special ability to harness a sadly underused “goofball” side to the actor, much as they also do in Burn After Reading. Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson are also just as memorable in their roles as Everett’s countrified accomplices, and the film hosts a number of other well-chosen actors and actresses that I’ve failed to actually mention so far. Holly Hunter plays Everett’s estranged wife Penny, with Charles Durning as Pappy O’Daniel and Wayne Duvall as Homer Stokes, who hides a rather controversial past-time from his constituents…
A great little cinematic adventure, it’s a timeless story that all can enjoy. If you appreciate good cinema then this film will be right up your street, even if 1930s Mississippi isn’t. With the mark of quality that all of the Coens’ films carry (Fargo, The Big Lebowski and True Grit immediately spring to mind), you can be assured you’re going to get your money’s worth. But there’s one piece of advice you must heed; DO. NOT. SEEK. THE TREASURE.