O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Ulysses Everett McGill is a garrulous, silver-tounged, petty criminal who is reluctant to sepnd any more time crushing rocks. He scams his way off the chain gang with Pete and Delmar, a clumsy duo of losers. The trio embarks on an adventure of a lifetime as they pursue freedom and a treasure Ulysses claims is worth $1.2 million. Their journey seems strangely similar to an Odyssey of another Ulysses, as chronicled centuries ago by Homer.
Modernizing a classic story like Homer’s Odyssey was a great idea. I’m sure the brothers Coen spend years pitching the idea to various studio heads. But it would take a main attraction like George Clooney in the credits to sell the concept. With a headline name comes certain insurance that the film will at least attract the star’s fans. I’ll admit that this mixture of star and story was enough to peek my interest. “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is one of those cases where the combination almost works, like an unrosined bow almost produces a clear note on a violin. Clooney, the actor doesn’t lose himself in Ulysses, the character. The result produces a dissonant blend of Ivy League and hillbilly. John Turturro as Pete sounds more like a thug from Brooklyn than a hick from Mississippi. Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar is perfectly cast as the third member of the wayward trio. The writers worked too hard to infuse the classic tale’s characters into a modern story. “O Brother” depicts Homer’s sirens as three scantily clad washerwomen beating cloths in a stream, and the terrifying Cyclops as a patch-eyed brutish hustler played by John Goodman. Some of the gags work well and most of the visual comedy is well constructed and well timed, although I found it difficult to laugh when a cow was run over by a truck. There was a touching scene where Delmar joins an entire church congregation as they wade into a river for a mass baptism. Unfortunately, that event becomes the butt of a running joke about Delmar’s being “saved from my sinful nature” as justification for his ongoing sinful behavior. The highlight of the movie is the sound track, which has a couple of show-stopping songs performed by the motley trio who called themselves “The Soggy Bottom Boys.” My advice . . . buy the album and save your money at the box office.