Intolerable Cruelty

Intolerable Cruelty: written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, John Romano, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; starring George Clooney (Miles Massey), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marylin), Geoffrey Rush (Donovan Donaly), Cedric the Entertainer (Gus Petch), Edward Herrmann (Rex Rexroth), and Richard Jenkins (Freddy Bender) (2003): A mediocre Coen Brothers movie (of which this is one) is still better than the vast majority of all other movies.

This trifle is certainly the glitziest of their big-star productions, those Coen Brothers movies starring George Clooney or, once, Tom Hanks, in roles that seemed to be intentionally crafted to either mock them or at least test their capacity to mock themselves. Both Hanks and Clooney have been game, though Clooney’s much better at it — Hanks’s go at embodying Southern-Fried tomfoolery in The Ladykillers was overshadowed by most of his co-stars, including a cat.

Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, who’s worked with the Coens a lot, shoots Catherine Zeta-Jones like the most radiantly golden of Golden-Age movie stars. Clooney’s character, meanwhile, repeatedly obsesses over how white his newly whitened teeth are. Various eccentrics and grotesques get most of the good lines and good physical comedy. An ex-con turned assassin seems to have wandered in from Raising Arizona, while the hideously geriatric head of Clooney’s law firm seems to have arrived fresh from The Hudsucker Proxy via Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

Is it good? Not exactly, but it’s neither boring nor stupid. For a movie the Coens say was in development for eight years (originally with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere attached), it seems weirdly underdone, especially in the dialogue department, though that may be a result of having been rewritten too many times. One of the oddities of the production is that Clooney’s character seems like a prescient lampoon of his later characters in Michael Clayton and Up in the Air. Recommended.

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