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INTOLERABLE CRUELTY

BY GARY SUSMAN

"Who needs a home when you have a colostomy bag?" Yep, we’re back in Coen Brothers Land, in the Big Lebowski neighborhood, at the corner of quirky and inconsequential. There’s no reason Intolerable Cruelty should work. It’s the product of several seemingly incompatible sensibilities — the Coens versus the three screenwriters who worked on earlier drafts of the script, the Coens versus producer Brian Grazer, known for making garish, vulgar, expensive blockbusters with Ron Howard. Nonetheless, Cruelty swats a solid triple. It’s as willfully arcane and offbeat as any Coen picture, but it also has plenty of broad laughs, both verbal and visual, not to mention two attractive A-List pros acting at the top of their game. It’s both cultish and mainstream, both cheap and extravagant. In short, it has something for everyone.

George Clooney is Miles Massey, the Alexander the Great of unscrupulous Los Angeles divorce lawyers, who’s won so many courtroom victories that he’s terminally bored, having no worlds left to conquer. That changes when he meets Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), world-class gold digger and serial divorcée. Like the flirtatious thieves in Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, they recognize each other as kindred spirits, but they find it as much fun to compete and to betray each other as to surrender to their mutual attraction. They spend the movie circling each other like the only two sharks in the ocean. Of course, nearly everyone else in the movie is a typical Coen grotesque, from Massey’s ancient and intestinally deficient senior partner (the subject of that colostomy remark) to an asthmatic hit man named Wheezy Joe, to a private eye (Cedric the Entertainer) who harasses and hollers at cheating spouses as he catches them red-handed with his camcorder. The Coens are setting themselves up again for the charge of misanthropy, but their cynicism here is so pure that, at least as embodied by Clooney and Zeta-Jones, it comes off as a kind of romantic ideal.


Issue Date: October 10 - 16, 2003
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