|George Clooney is gorgeous. Catherine Zeta-Jones is gorgeous. Whatever their acting abilities, both can rest easy knowing that if their careers ever fail, they can both find a home on the pages of a fashion magazine. But in what must be the most fortunate recipients of the "beauty plus brains" prize, Zeta-Jones and Clooney both just happen to be very fine actors, with Clooney proving without a doubt with this performance that he is one of the most talented comedic actors working in feature films today.|
Though it is somewhat depressing that all the talent in front of and behind the camera did not add up to a fully superior film. Taking an already existing screenplay (from the positioning of the credits, the Coen brothers seem to have been the re-writers), the Coens have lost some of their off-beat wit and irreverence of their past films. Having been the creators of some of the strangest dialogue, characters, and stories ever put into film, Intolerable Cruelty is almost what one could consider a "mainstream" film and is a different experience than their past productions.
While the idea of creating a film that the vast majority of audience members might enjoy isn't necessarily a bad idea, the Coens have too much talent to let escape their hold on the strange and weird. Walking a fine line between true independent film and mainstream productions, the Coens have made films like Fargo and O Brother, Where Are Thou into modern classics that have snagged enough of a general movie-going audience to be considered minor hits. A filmmaker like David Lynch rests solely in the "independent" world and somebody like Steven Spielberg seems always at home in big-budget blockbuster territory.
But the Coens are the rare example of filmmakers who possess the talent to accommodate for brains and brawn. Intolerable Cruelty is too close to mainstream for comfort and much of the success of this film rests on George Clooney's shoulders. Put simply, Clooney is absolutely hilarious as a scheming, high-priced Beverly Hills divorce attorney and the audience will be laughing for nearly every second that he is on screen. Having shown his comedic genius once in his other Coen Bros. film (O Brother), Clooney has come light-years from his films of the mid-1990's like One Fine Day (which was one fine mess) and Batman and Robin (which seemed to have lacked a script).
Perhaps Clooney has just found the ability to choose more intelligent roles and screenplays. Or perhaps he's become a more versatile actor. Whatever the reason, Clooney is the glue that holds this production together when the story shows its weak points. It doesn't happen all that often (as the Coen brothers do occasionally know what they're doing in that regard), but it is a noticeable fault nonetheless. With such films as The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona under their belt (easy evidence of the Coen brothers' genius), it's difficult to criticize the filmmakers for not getting the mainstream formula completely right.
Then again, perhaps it is expecting too much from these two unique filmmakers to believe that they could have made this film into something as successful as their past original creations. Maybe it was the idea itself that was flawed and the crew and actors turned out a better product than what another less talented group of filmmakers could have put together. It might have become just another romantic comedy without the benefit of having the Coen brothers’ stamp of approval. The film isn't as original as what they've done in the past, but that's probably because it wasn't their own.
And as Joel and Ethan have traditionally taken their own material to screen (excepting O Brother, which was based on Homer's epic "The Odyssey), this film could be viewed as a "warming up" for mainstream films to come. It's easy to believe that the Coen brothers could conquer the world of big-budget spectaculars. But put simply, Intolerable Cruelty benefits most from its cast and secondarily, its dialogue. The story is not its most impressive point and that aspect won't receive the highest marks. While it is true the story is "satisfactory," that word is not usually to be found in connection with Joel and Ethan's feature film creations.
Since it's easy to concentrate on Clooney's engaging performance, the added benefit of watching supporting actors Geoffrey Rush (as a television producer), Cedric the Entertainer (as a private investigator), Edward Herrmann (as Zeta-Jones's husband) and Billy Bob Thornton (as another of Zeta-Jones's husbands) dance across the screen, each actor with his own brand of sardonic humor, makes sure the audience always has something entertaining to look at and to listen to. The bottom line: the story is easy to ignore when the cast receives such high marks.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.