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)
Mattie Ross’ story is back on the movies again, and this time we hear her adult voice first while blurry yellow lights shine somewhere within the centre of the screen. Eventually the audience gets an image of her father, Frank, lying dead in front of a porch.
The camera shows Frank’s body from a safe distance. Eventually the film shows dried skin from cadavers in a mortuary where young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) has to sleep, hollowed out eyes, a man (John Goodman?) shot in the head, bodies that become exposed on the snow, men who die because their heads will fall on rocks, a man who has long passed with a snake living where his stomach has been.
Do you want me to count the injuries too? The multiple gun wounds, the ranger Laboeuf (Matt Damon) mangling up his mouth and teeth, Mattie getting spanked, getting a boot on her head and a gun pointed at her, threats of rape directed at her at least once. And that’s not the end of her suffering. As a frank depiction of the Western, the beautifully shot True Grit honestly show the corporeal effects of a violent civilization where the dead are disrespected, some of whom deserve that fate.
We’ve seen this realism in the Coen’s No Country for Old Men, but what makes the violence more shocking is that it’s seen and experienced by a girl. Mattie, who backs up her claims in knowing the legal aspects of 1870’s Arkansas, behaves as if her father’s death has always been a possibility. In his passing, she aims to take care of his business matters, since her mother’s apparently not so good at those things. She also looks for a hired Marshall to hunt for the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who killed her father.
The sheriff gives her three choices for her Marshall and she chooses the meanest one, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). The men she encounters already brand her as a headstrong, young woman in pursuing Chaney and going to the country with him despite Cogburn’s advice. Yet in hiring Cogburn, she concedes that she can’t do the job alone. The film exposes other symbolic manifestations of her shortcomings. A hat that’s too small for her that she modifies with a newspaper, her oversized clothing. Buying a pony instead of a horse – although she doesn’t ride side-saddle. She asks Cogburn or Laboeuf what should they do in instances like gunner showdowns, her question actually meaning what are the men going to do for her.
Going back to being unable to do the job alone, that fits not only Mattie but the rest of the major characters as well. Mattie and Laboeuf successfully petition to Cogburn and each other that they’re necessary in the journey, even if they have to do so repeatedly. Laboeuf, who has investigated Chaney, his other crimes and his whereabouts, convinces Cogburn that it takes a two-man job at the least to take Chaney. Mattie is the ethical heart of the journey, her presence in the trek a reminder of Chaney’s crimes.
Along the way, there are some pauses and silences within the film that eventually leads to Coenesque humour. Mattie’s encounters with the men in town, their awkward if not mean-spirited treatment of her greeted with laughter and not of the nervous kind. Cogburn’s encounters with Native kids [ETA] made me feel uncomfortable. And of course, the dentist with the bear suit, taking us away from one-note solemnity that the rest of the journey could have been.
I saw this film with my sister, who lauded Mattie for being a feminist hero and Steinfeld’s fast yet smooth talking performance, besting veterans like Bridges and Damon in the Coenesque dialogue. There are also racial dynamics minimized here. Strangely enough, the black and Asian characters having fewer lines within the narrative compared to the John Wayne vehicle 40 years ago. She lastly pointed out Chaney, as Brolin adds paranoia and vulnerability to his irrational villain. 4/5.
Here via Film Experience is Todd Alcott’s very erudite analysis of “A Serious Man.” It’s not perfect, as someone like Jim Emerson would say. But my comparisons of a Robert Redford to Brueghel just pales. I think of this movie as unapproachable during the experience of it, despite the fond memories I have of “There’s another Jew, son,” or “Do you take advantage of the newest freedoms?”, or “he’s a fucker,” or Larry Gopnik’s son Danny going through his bar mitzvah on weed, or the goy’s teeth, or Fagle chasing Danny but never catches him.