R4 . COLOR . 96 mins .
M15+ . PAL
A new Coen Brothers film is always something to look forward to, especially when they take on a genre they’ve previously left unassailed, in this case the romantic comedy. However, there’s something somewhat un-Coen-like about Intolerable Cruelty, and that may just be down to the story’s origins; rather than being an original Ethan and Joel creation, it’s a rewrite of somebody else’s script. Originally fearing it too commercial for them, the Brothers were apparently reticent about making it, however make it they did, and it certainly is interesting – and often entertaining – experiencing their take on what has been a decidedly tired genre in recent years.
Yes, he brusha brusha brushas...
We enter the world of crack superstar divorce attorney Miles Massey (Clooney), creator of the never-penetrated Massey pre-nuptual agreement and owner of some seriously white toothy-pegs. Able to win the seemingly un-winnable, his reputation is legendary, and it is this rep which eventually leads to his meeting Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones), with whom he instantly becomes smitten. It seems Marylin’s rich but dumb hubby has been a choo-choo cheatin’, and with the help of a private detective she has the evidence to nail his ass; that is until Massey turns things on their head and she walks away from the marriage with nada but another surname to add to her ever-increasing collection of hyphenations. Having just watched her passport to wealth, independence and freedom fly off into the sunset without her, the shrewd gold digger sets about finding another patsy, which she seems to do with remarkable ease and speed in Howard D. Doyle of Doyle Oil (Billy Bob Thornton), with whom she’s apparently so in love she’s happy to sign one of Massey’s renowned pre-nups. An increasingly captivated Miles is certain something fishy is up, but what could it be? Don’t worry, he soon finds out…
"I’m gonna nail yo ass!"
The moment Miles' eyes popped...
Of the classic screwball comedy battle of the sexes school, Intolerable Cruelty has a lot going for it in the casting department, with Clooney’s smooth yet goofy Rock Hudson shtick a veritable treat, and his chemistry with Zeta-Jones undeniable. It’s the smaller roles, however, which really shine – all too brief appearances from Geoffrey Rush (ouch!), Billy Bob Thornton, Richard Jenkins and Cedric the Entertainer being but four of many. The Coen Brothers’ unique way with words, characterisation and off-kilter comedy is also very much to the fore – making many a classic situation out of next to nothing with a collection of simple, but effective, offhand lines and hilarious sight gags.
There’s one big problem, however. A plot twist which the film basically depends upon to sail past the halfway mark is so easily picked that it takes the shine off all that follows, heading towards a somewhat droll and “duh!”-inducing denouement which lacks the substance of any of the Coens’ previous outings. Sure, the chemistry and comedy the film drowns in is fun and all, but when considering their incredible filmic curriculum vitae ultimately it’s hard not to feel just a little cheated. Cruelty indeed.
A 1.85:1, 16:9 enhanced picture that’s free of any filmic detritus such as speckles and blobs is what’s on offer here. “Yay!” you may think. However, overall it’s not as good as it may sound.
Portrait of an ass nailer.
The main issue here is an abundance of aliasing and shimmering, from simple things like lines on roads, to a little black and white checked number Marylin wears at one point which wriggles about so much that it appears positively alive. Put these many annoying outbreaks aside and things are good, delivering Roger Deakins’ superb cinematography in quite clear and detailed fashion, save for the odd seemingly intentional soft shot or two. The layer change is also well placed, with a slight pause right before a black screen.
Lust in an elevator...
Want to have some cruel fun? Watch a DTS addict get all excited at the prospect of letting this one rip, only to witness the disappointment afterwards when not a whole lot actually happens as far as sonic wows are concerned. Intolerable Cruelty is a decidedly talky film and, as such, offers little to test the subwoofwoof or indeed the rear speakers save for a couple of very rare noisy outbreaks. Whether you opt for the DTS 5.1 or the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix you’ll get clear dialogue and a decently spread front soundstage, however expectation of more than some ambience and a bit of musical boost from the rears will be met with disillusionment.
As is the Coen way, Carter Burwell is the maestro for this particular piece, and as always he doesn’t disappoint. His varied set of creations shares time with the odd ditty plundered from the history of pop music, with the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, Elvis Presley, Edith Piaf and Tom Jones all bobbing up at various points.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a Coen Brothers commentary? Well, alas, we’re still waiting. In fact the extras on offer here are disappointingly slim pickings, and can be ploughed through in less than 20 minutes.
First up is a distressingly fluffy promo featurette entitled A Look Inside Intolerable Cruelty (11:40). Your ever-so-standard concoction of film clips and “(insert name here) is ace” interview clips, we’d be fibbing our fannies off if we said it was a vital watch. The same applies for the second featurette, The Wardrobe (5:11). This one’s pretty self explanatory, including more film clips and a few more interview snippets.
Finally (yes, already) we have a few outtakes to snuggle up with. Despite only running for 1:21, Everybody Eats Berries will have most people heading towards a life of basket weaving with its rapid fire repetition of one brief line. Clooney’s flubs (1:30) are more entertaining, Zeta-Jones’ (0:58) less so, and only trainspotters could get any joy from the silent collage of black and white footage that is Rex Rexroth’s home movie (3:25).
Sadly, there’s an all-round air of the average surrounding this much-awaited release. Many will be disappointed with both the video transfer and the feeble assemblage of extras, and ultimately the film just isn’t up to the usual, admittedly remarkably high, Coen Brothers standard. Sadly, they just didn’t nail its ass.
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