The Coen Brothers offer in Intolerable Cruelty characters who like to deceive except in the scenes when they’re introduced. We first see Miles Massey (George Clooney) talking on the phone to get messages from his assistant, the cutthroat lawyer that he is. There’s another scene shortly after when he talks to his colleague about the intricacies of the legal system and the real functions of marriage, a conversation they should have had years before but exists in the film for purposes of another introduction. Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta Jones) is sad but has great resolve while watching surveillance video of her husband Rex cheating on her, and we know that she’ll survive and probably has ulterior motives. Both eventually meet – Miles becomes the lawyer representing Rex – and fall in love and try to, as private dick Gus Fetch (Cedric the Entertainer) says, nail each other’s ass.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins find ways to play around with colours and images in a supposedly light comedy like this. The blues – the light while Miles is getting his teeth whitened, Gus’s aquarium, the swimming pools, Vegas at dusk – standing out in within the browns and reds of the res t of the film. The white lights, both the ceilings of the court scene and the lamps used both in Miles and Marilyn’s first date and at Miles’ boss’ office, are echoed in more prestigious films.
This is probably the second film of Zeta-Jones’s that features a courtroom when a woman feigns innocence to a scandal devouring public. This time around, it’s Jones’s Marilyn that does the pretending, in pink. I didn’t know Bill Blass designed in pink.
The doesn’t prepare its audience to its own style of humour, but there are some scenes that work because of its surreal comic style, the writing for the film is both tight, sprawling and wordy at the same time. One is the scene when Miles tells his client a defense story that helps her even if it’s absurdly untrue. There’s also Marilyn’s second marriage to a Dallas oil heir named Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), officiated by a priest marching down the aisle playing Simon and Garfunkel in his acoustic guitar. The third scene is Marilyn’s court scene with its many movements. Rex being in contempt, Miles and Marilyn throwing Shakespeare at each other to try and fail to admit the other’s guilt, the scandalous Baron von Espy testimony.
Miles is the best role I’ve seen Clooney do. He strikes that note to evince a charming but slimy regular person. The Coen Brothers always allows him to be kooky, culminating in a scene near the end that’s hilarious in an old school sense. Jones allows herself to go through the inconsistencies of female characters but she’s very lively here. Her character’s consummation with Miles happens late – less than an hour into the 95 minute film – but she’s the stronger end of the romance department. In the stage of her character being a ‘sitting duck, ‘ she shows great passion and vulnerability
- Will Self considers the Coen brothers (guardian.co.uk)
It feels somehow mean that instead of writing about the aesthetic principles of an anime film like Hayao Miyazaki‘s Princess Mononoke, I talk about the voice acting. And it’s not the Japanese voice-acting too, which apparently can only be obtained through a year’s negotiations and waiting and that would have been too expensive. Yet, here I am. Not an expert here, but there is some Noh theatricality bleeding into the Japanese style of film acting down to Kurosawa. Having new, English-language voices then means starting from scratch.
I saw this movie with a friend who told me that Bill Bob Thornton plays a monk. Otherwise I knew nothing about the cast, so throughout the movie I keep trying to figure that out. Was that Tom Cruise as Ashitaka? Angelina Jolie as Lady Eboshi? Drew Barrymore as Princess Mononoke? Julianne Moore as Moro (actually Gillian Anderson)? Is my hearing that bad?
Growing up in Manila, I’m normally greeted at home by anime cartoons, most would have the typical character interpretations, the raspy angry voices of the old and the chipper sounds of the young. Not in the English-language dubbing of this film. At the same time, it’s hard to show the flexibility of facial expressions in animation, and the main characters aren’t drawn to move with large gestures neither. For example, Billy Bob Thornton‘s Jigo is raspy too, but looking like an old fat man he sounds neither. He instead makes Jigo sound like a cynic instead of a uniformly bad person I would have imagines in the supposed evil Western lands where Prince Ashitaka (Billy Crudup) is traveling. Jigo’s humourous even at the film’s most nerve-wracking moments. His realistic worldview makes Ashitaka realize that his quest as just gotten more complex than he might have expected.
And then there’s Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi. She yells in her first scene. Otherwise, she doesn’t need to raise her voice in front of even the male soldiers. They just have her full attention. Despite laughing at Ashitaka’s face, she spends her night with him by explaining her herself without having to prove herself. She’s like a mother to the residents of her Irontown, later attempting to show her men how to kill a god. ‘The trick is not to fear him.’ Her calm demeanor makes us confident that she knows what she’s doing throughout the film.
Driver and Thornton’s characterizations stand out because they seem for the most part the exception to the rules that I forget that there are two performances that are. And I don’t want this to come across as scorn with praise. Anyway, there’s Claire Danes‘ Princess Mononoke/San, and it makes sense for her to yell through half of the film. San is Eboshi’s enemy. She’s more confused and angry about Ashitaka’s ambivalent allegiances, because of her feelings for him. The deaths of her allies and the destruction of her world don’t help neither. The change of environment brings the worst out of her identity crisis, a human desperately wanting to fit in with her wolf family. Danes also interprets San as someone stuck in girlhood, that even her calmest line reads are filled with misanthropy and rage.
Ok, so maybe the older characters are calmer while the younger ones are more spirited. Which explains Crudup’s Ashitaka, but he comes across more as gallant yet commanding. Which doesn’t explain Jada Pinkett-Smith‘s Toki, a passionate character, loyal to Eboshi. She’s left alone with the other prostitutes to defend Irontown. She takes on herself as the character who leads the women out into safety, becoming as maternal as her role model. Pinkett-Smith as well as the other actors add a universality to this movie.
p.s. I know what I want for Christmas.
The male characters in the Southern small-town setting of Sling Blade are different yet the same. Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow-witted man who’s out from the ‘nervous hospital’ after being there for twenty-five years. His friend Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black) is just a boy – he reads books but we never see him go to school in most of the film. Their friend Vaughn is an owner of a stable dollar store, his homosexuality an open secret to the small community that is ambivalent in accepting him. Frank’s mother’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) is an abusive alcoholic who has aspirations in the music business.
Frank’s mother defends Doyle by saying that ‘he’s had a hard life,’ a statement that applies to all four guys. Specifically, in the first three examples, they have shitty father figures. With the ‘same difference’ that these four guys have, the film paints a social pattern. This movie is only a public service announcement for those who will see most movies that way. What separates this fictional community from lesser movies is that it doesn’t ask for outside help and takes care of its own problems.
Or that Thornton, also the movie’s director, didn’t choose to portray the plot points by changing the tone of the movie through non-diagetic music or heavy editing. What happens in the movie gets normalized through long takes, etc. It’s strange when Karl and Frank talk about something that is bound to happen again. I’m not sure if that prepares me as an audience. What happens, nonetheless, is still shocking when I finally see it.
The performances of the two leads, Thornton and Black, are an acquired taste, arguably dated, but I got used to them eventually. For Thornton’s Karl, there’s mannerisms, check. Catch phrase, check. And we’ve had a lot of ‘special’ male characters in that decade. Forrest Gump, Leo in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Geoffrey Rush in Shine. With any character like Karl, it takes a lot of commitment to be entrenched in a character like that and it’s hard to judge choices like his. And Black at first seems less animated for an abused child, but the one scene in the climax proved that I spoke against him too early. He was just getting warmed up.