Independent Pick: O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Few films provide a viewing experience as rich and rewarding as 2000’s O Brother, Where Art Thou – written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Very loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, the film presents a modernized, satirical take on the themes of that book, while referencing 1941’s Sullivan’s Travels – a film that sees a film director attempt to film a fictional book called O Brother Where Art Thou, about the Great Depression.
It all sounds terribly high-brow and confusing, but that is not what this film is. This film is a rollicking rollercoaster ride through the Mississippi of 1937, with an award-winning soundtrack, gorgeous visuals, one of the best screenplays ever written, and a raft of brilliant performances led by a hilarious turn from George Clooney. In short, O Brother, Where Art Thou is another wonderful showcase for everything that the Coen Brothers do perfectly.
Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) escape from a chain gang with the intention of collecting $1.2 million worth of treasure that McGill claims to have stolen before his imprisonment. The reason for the apparent urgency is its location – at the bottom of a valley that is due to be flooded 4 days later, to pave the way for hydroelectricity. Attempting to climb aboard a moving train to speed their escape, the three men fall back to the tracks, and instead, hitch a ride with a blind man travelling the railroad on a handcar. He predicts their futures, declaring they will find a fortune, but not the one they seek.
So begins their journey – and what a journey it is. They encounter law enforcement, religion, political corruption, sirens (the female kind), the Ku Klux Klan, a one-eyed Bible-selling mugger, the Devil, and a record contract. It is funny, thrilling and moving, with a final pay-off that will leave the most cynical of viewers with a warm, effusive glow. With stellar supporting turns from John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, Chris Thomas King and Stephen Root, this is life-affirming cinema at its very best, and comes highly recommended.