O Brother, Where Art Thou?

2000, Movie, PG-13, 93 mins


A trifle suffused with the Coen's trademark snooty hijinks, this mild-mannered comedy about three convicts who flee a Mississippi chain gang in hopes of recovering some stolen loot is actually quite a charmer. The title comes from Preston Sturges' Depression-era satire SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS: "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is the problem picture an earnest Hollywood director wants to make before he logs some time on a chain gang and learns that sometimes desperate people need fluffy pictures like "So Long, Sarong." But the story is loosely adapted from Homer's Odyssey, with emphasis on the loosely. Pencil-moustached, pomaded sharpie Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney, who wears his Tyrone Power-ish look with great aplomb), buryer of the aforementioned loot, is the ringleader of the escapees. The swag's buried someplace that's about to be submerged as part of a federal hydroelectric project, so Everett and his cohorts, the simple-minded Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and hot-tempered Pete (John Turturro) — each more slack-jawed than the other — have only a few days to recover their prize by any means possible. Along the way, they're advised by a blind prophet (Lee Weaver) and taken in by a treacherous cyclops (John Goodman, as a one-eyed bible salesman) and some seductive sirens (Mia Tate, Musetta Vander, Christy Taylor), singing their treacherous hearts out from a rock in a creek. The ex-cons also encounter legendary bluesman Robert "Tommy" Johnson (Chris Thomas King) shortly after he's sold his soul to the Devil at that famous crossroad, and record a hit song with him as "The Soggy Bottom Boys." They fall in with neurotic gangster Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco), and run afoul of local politicians (Charles Durning, Wayne Duvall) and the KKK, whose broadly comic antics make for the film's most uncomfortable moments. Often clever but fundamentally shallow, this shaggy-dog story is greatly enriched by its extraordinary bluegrass soundtrack, supervised by T Bone Burnett and performed by a phenomenal collection of artists. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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