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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

review by Zach B.


Rated PG-13

Studio: Disney

Running Time: 103 minutes

Starring George Clooney, John , Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Badalucco, John Goodman and Holly Hunter

Screenplay by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Based upon Homer's "The Odyssey"

Directed by Joel Coen

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Production Featurette, Painting With Pixels featurette, Storyboard To Scene Comparisons, "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" Music Video, Sneak Peeks, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Closed Captions, English Captions, Spanish Subtitles, Chapter Search (24 Chapters)

The way I see it, you either like the Coen Brothers or you don't. I know some people who hated "Barton Fink" while others who simply loved it. Same thing for... all their other films. I guess you could say I am a fan of their work, but there are some films from them which I couldn't stand with a passion, while others I loved. To me, it seems they make a great film, then a so-so one, and then another great one. "Fargo" is an all time favorite by many, but "The Big Lebowski" got scorned. And now there's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", a very (and I mean very) loose take on Homer's "The Odyssey". Why you don't need to know it to understand the movie, but if you do know all about it, there are certainly some bonus treats and references throughout the film to make it work on an additional level for you.

Ulysses Everett McGill is a prison escapee who's chained to two of his friends (I guess that's appropriate to say), Pete and Delmar in Mississippi during the 1930s. While they do eventually get unchained toward the start of the movie, McGill got them on the run to escape by telling him of his plan to find a hidden treasure he buried and wants to find again (this is not true as it is learned later on, and if you saw the trailer you know what the real deal is, but I won't spoil it for you here). This leads them hitchhiking and on a series of misadventures with an oddball cast of characters only the Coens could create. They meet up with a musician and end up recording a catchy hit record (they're known as the "Soggy Bottom Boys"), they cross paths with a gangster by the name of George Nelson, they also find three seductresses, meet up with religious folk and a bible salesman known as Big Dan (the Cyclops!) all while trying to avoid being caught by the notorious sheriff. With all this brings a whole load of musical numbers to boot.

This movie, like all Coen Brothers films for me, was not what I was expecting. Again, the Coens quirkiness and appealing weirdness is shown here. I do enjoy what they bring usually, but I'm sure people out there won't simply understand it and will be turned off by it.

The problem for me were some parts of the story arc I suppose. Don't get me wrong, I think the characters are developed quite nicely here and I really liked how things were interwoven throughout the film, but I found some parts (toward the beginning mostly) slow and not everything on screen advances the story. Like I said, this is another Coen Brothers film that surprised me and gave me a story that I did not totally expect. I guess you could I say I wanted what I expected to make the movie better as a whole and seem more full, and if I were them, I would have developed and done a few things differently. But that's me, and I don't want to trample their vision at all. The Coens make good use of their story and it flows fairly well, but if they added some more interesting things, got rid of and changed some parts, I felt it could have been absolutely perfect. I just expected certain things which I really would have liked to see, but what I wanted was not included and the Coens pave it their way, which I do respect. The thing I enjoyed most about the storyline is that how everything seems to meet up and intertwine, and the loads of funny and inspired moments the film has. As far as everything else the film offers, I thought the rest was perfect.

The acting in this film is phenomenal. George Clooney (who won a Golden Globe for his performance) as Ulysses Everett McGill as a man who wants to reclaim what he once had is somber, sorta touching and downright hilarious. He cares about his hair, but his performance brought a grin to my face and brings so much to the role. Tim Blake Nelson is quite charming here as fellow escapee Delmar, who's sort of dimwitted but has a good heart. He's also pretty funny and a joy to watch. Frequent Coen stars John Turturro and John Goodman are also great. Turturro as Pete is also pretty funny and performs his part well, but Goodman as bible salesman and Ku Klux Klan member brought the biggest laughs to me in his all-too-brief role. I wish there was Goodman, because his performance was my favorite and his character was amazing. Charles Durning and Michael Badalucco (from TV's "The Practice") were also a lot of fun and amazing, and Holly Hunter in a smaller role was pretty good too. This is a great cast and each performance is electrifying. I can't recall a movie before this when I loved each performance so much as the ones in this film.

The music in this film has quite a nice range. Yes, this movie is a musical (though the Coens do not consider it one, more that it has a lot of musical elements throughout the film), and it's somewhat crazy. A lot of it is country and bluegrass, but some of it is pretty catchy, especially "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" (which I can't stop listening to ever since I first heard it), which is actually a folk song that has had a lot of variations in the past from many artists and groups. There's also some older, classic songs ("You Are My Sunshine"), but who performs the numbers is actually the funny part about it. There's a Ku Klux Klan musical number, as well as one with the religious folk and the seductresses. If you live a good old movie musical and aren't easily offended, you're sure to get a kick out of the songs here.

On a more technical side of the movie, the Coens show their skills. We all know Ethan produces and Joel directs, but I hear they usually direct together and give Joel the directing credit. Anyhow, the editing in this movie is really nice with some nice tight shots, but the cinematography of the southern locations can be jawdropping and beautiful. There's some really nice scenery and lighting techniques throughout the film, and it gives the film a deeper edge and makes you a bit more amazed. My favorite shot has to be the final one, with the railroad guy going down the railroad track (that scene also gives the movie a great sense of being complete, because there's a part toward the start with the guy and the escapees - you'll see). I also liked how they made it seem like an old time movie with their circle fades and the opening titles. A very nice touch.

I did mention the Ku Klux Klan during parts of this review, and I will say that if you are easily offended, there's a good change you may be disgusted with certain portions of the film. Yes, it's in the south during the 1930s, and that's the way things were like. So I have to say if you can't handle the racism the film portrays at points, then don't check it out. If you don't mind it and realize this is just a movie, not actual events and not the Coen's true thoughts, then you'll be okay.

Again, some people are going to hate this film with a passion while others are simply going to be awestruck by it. Part of me loves this film a whole bunch, while another part thinks it's just okay due to some slow parts and flaws. Still, there's no denying that Coen Brothers can still create a very original movie (even when using other material) and that their films have had a big impact on Hollywood during the past 16 years.

Disney has provided one of their best transfers ever with "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". The film is presented in glorious 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and the results are jaw-dropping. This film has a really interesting use of colors that creates a wonderful effect that really makes the sense of sight come alive. From the black and white opening to the golden crops of the south, the dusty and bleak colors really create a mood that is reflected throughout the film to really give you a good sense of the depression era. The colors do reflect many moods and give off a wonderful atmosphere to behold. Things for the characters are constantly changing and the look of the film really represents that with the variety of settings and situations. With the colors there's a compressed look of sorts to really give off what the Coens were looking for (for more on the visual process, be sure to check out the "Painting With Pixels" featurette on the DVD). The DVD truly shows off the Oscar®-nominated cinematography from Roger Deakins beautifully. There are so many illustrious exterior shots that are simply breathtaking. The fields, the forrests... a lot of great, wide shots that look really stunning. I'm glad the transfer really captures the visual style of the film. As far as things with the transfer goes, I didn't notice any artifacting, noise or shimmering and I only saw a piece of dirt here and there, nothing distracting at all. The level of detail is amazing and the black levels are rock solid. No complaints here... enjoy.

Disney has provided an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track and an English DTS 5.1 track for the film. No matter which one you choose, you're sound system and your ears are in for a real treat. Still, once again, DTS wins the battle but only by a hair. Each track features rich sounds and some constant as well as excellent mixed surrounds. This movie is strong on music, and the various country and bluegrass tunes sound wonderful through the channels and use all the channels appropriatly. .1 LFE extension is good, and there are many scenes with many active surrounds (the Ku Klux Klan scene, the fire sequence and the opening to name a few). Each track really gets you into the film and really brings it to life, you may feel like you're there. On the whole, I felt that the DTS was better because sounds were a lot more tighter and had more of this layerish quality that made key scenes sound a bit better. There was more enveloping to them and packed stronger punches. Still, the Dolby Digital is really nice too and either one will give you great sounds to really give he experience of the film. However, I was disappointed with some of the channel use though. While the film does feature good mixes and good surround use, places where I expected to hear surrounds (with some of the songs) I didn't hear them... the back channels didn't kick in. Oh well... they're still good mixes for a film like this. English closed captions, English captions and Spanish subtitles are included.

While it's not feature packed, Disney has provided a lot more extras than I expected to see. I hear the Coens are not a big fan of supplements (though I believe they are contributing a commentary track to the region one release of "Blood Simple"), but what's here is a very nice package.

The Production Featurette is not your usual assortment of studio fluff. It doesn't have an announcer, it doesn't have a division of elements and it doesn't even have a title card. It just starts out with the Coens talking and goes off from there (you won't even find copyright info at the end). This your above-average featurette. The Coens do talk about the actors, the story, Homer's poem and the musical elements. What seems to be on-set interviews with actors John Turturro, Holly Hunter, George Clooney and Tim Blake Nelson has them discussing the film and their praise for the Coens. Their is some pretty interesting stuff said that I found satisfying. Clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage is shown as well. This is a well done featurette.

Another featurette is presented on the disc and deals with the process of the "digitalization" of the film. Painting With Pixels is the name of the featurette and is really insightful and interesting to watch if you're into the technical portions of the movie. As anyone who's seen the movie can tell you, there is quite a unique look to it. The way the colors are transfigured into the film is amazing as well as the various palettes to represent things and give it a really nice look. The featurette shows that once the final cut is completed it's made digital, and then a company works on creating the overall look for the scenes by changing around colors, saturating elements and the like. The focus is on the movie and what it features, but there's also a good focus on the exact process. There's also a nice backdrop of how it can be a key thing in movies. Again, if you're technical, don't miss it. It has some examples showing the power of the machines with clips not from the movie, but there are clips that have "before and after" laced in. There are also interviews with the technicians and director of photography Roger Deakins. Nicely done.

Disney's makes Storyboard To Scene Comparison makes an appearance on this DVD. Two scenes ("The Flood" and "The Klan") are compared from storyboard to final film using the angle button. One of the angles has the top with the storyboards and bottom with the film clip. Nice.

Finally, to round the disc out is the Music Video for "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" in non-anamorphic widescreen. It's played throughout the film and is quite a catchy song. The music video is essentially clips from the film. You also have the Theatrical Trailer that is improperly framed when compared to the movie's 2.35:1 ratio and finally, three Sneak Peeks for "The Crew", "Bounce" and "Unbreakable".

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is yet another delightful film from the Coens that some of you are sure to enjoy and some of you are sure going to be disappointed with. The DVD release presents the film the way it was meant to be experienced while adding some very good supplements to sweeten the deal.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)




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