With such an efficient consistency to their work, it’s no surprise that The Coen Brothers are able to crank out classics on a usually regular basis. They have their slip ups from time to time, but when they get that ever feverish mix of great direction and perfect writing then you’re always in for a treat. O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? is one of those mixes, where the direction and writing collide in such a fantastic way.
Helped greatly by the leading trio of George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson, the Coen Brother’s leap into the 2000s is a resounding triumph. Clooney especially provides us with one of his best performances of all. That’s not hard to best when my only other experiences of his acting and directing so far have been rather poor in quality. For such a highly regarded actor, he’s never really found a typecast role he can call his own. That would definitely be a good trait to have if he could find a performance that provides him with enough comfort to expand on his craft in a great enough way. O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? manages to get this balance just right, providing a thoroughly interesting performance the whole way through. Both hilarious and wistful, Clooney keeps his rag tag trio together in the most relentlessly hilarious of ways.
Turturro and Nelson support Clooney along the way, and there are great moments of comedic antics shared between an arguably great trio. Some solid chemistry between the three helps the movie along nicely under the ever-strong direction of the Coen Brothers. But usurping them as the most interesting character the film has to offer is none other than the great John Goodman. His brief appearance as “Big Dan” Teague is superb and quite close to some of the best work Goodman has done in a long while. Hilariously well coupled with Clooney in their few scenes together, the two are the biggest reason the film works so well.
But there are aspects of the movie that keep it from reaching the heights of Fargo and The Big Lebowski. While O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? may include some of the Coen’s finest writing, it doesn’t manage to match the glorious heights of either of the other two movies on a storytelling level. Many scenes feel sporadically random, to the point where the bar of realism is lowered to surprising levels. Not so much on a psychedelic or imaginative nature though, but more in how the plot links together and the journey of our trio of escapee heroes.
Much of it comes off without a hitch though, and O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? is a film that will rank high with fans of the Coen Brothers’ work so far. Far superior to the likes of Hail, Caesar and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in regard to their screwball comedy motif, but not as heavy or well thought out as A Serious Man. A good blend always helps, and for the most part this movie gets it just right, leading this to be one of the most comfortable Coen Brothers viewings of all.