ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  ethan & joel coen

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  104 minutes

RELEASED  -  26 march 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  touchstone pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the ladykillers

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $35,000,000
the ladykillers - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from the ladykillers at

buy the dvd from the ladykillers at

a southern professor and his crew pose as a band in order to rob a casino.

the facial expressions of Murva's husband on the painting changes throughout the movie.


picture from the ladykillers

picture from the ladykillers

picture from the ladykillers

picture from the ladykillers


one out of four possible stars

Following the conventions of classic Hollywood storytelling, as they have in many of their other off-beat movies, filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen offer up a weaker creative product with The Ladykillers than their fans would probably appreciate. Like the similarly devious The Man Who Wasn't There, the Coen's find their product mired in the rules and conventions of Golden Era filmmaking that seem to choke some of the creativity out of their film.

Further complicating the success of the film is the preponderance of questionable casting decisions, where it seems that no actor save Irma P. Hall seems to feel at home in his or her role. Whether it's a case of a defective screenplay or the actors being wrong for their parts is debatable, though actor Tom Hanks never seems quite in top form in his performance.

Though he carries the Southern accent well and seems to enjoy playing such an eccentric personality, Hanks is sometimes so theatrical that his entire character seems fake instead of oddly entertaining. As "Professor G.H. Dorr," the mastermind of a plot to rob a casino, his performance is more overblown than enthusiastic. Playing a quite rational character opposite Hanks, co-star Irma P. Hall, as homeowner and landlady "Marva Munson," presents a much more believable character who still exhibits some entertaining quirks and loopy-ness.

Hall possesses a fine comedic timing and definitely has the strongest performance of the film. Likewise, Tzi Ma, playing the serious and stereotypical "General," is able to push an unrealistic character into a believable performance. To a lesser extent, Marlon Wayons and Ryan Hurst, playing the side-kick/goofballs of the group, have a few memorable comedic moments, as does J.K. Simmons, in the more forceful role of thief Garth Pancake.

Although the film can boast a varied and talented cast, the overall production is missing something, somewhere that makes it difficult to appreciate the actors' efforts. And their efforts don't always feel in sync with one another, given the ensemble nature of the film. It's as if each performer is just a few degrees off from where their performance should focus. Despite a few laugh-out-loud moments (most of which are in the trailer), the comedy of the film just doesn't pack an impressive punch. The movie seems to last much longer than its respectable 104 minutes, courtesy of a few dead spots in pacing and uneven comic enthusiasm.

While the production values of the film are solid and professional, this aspect isn't something that should surprise the audience of a film with a modest Hollywood sized budget. The Coen brothers' brand of filmmaking is known as a dark and quick-witted brand of movie and over the past decade they've seen their unique view of the world rendered to varying decrees of success. Sometimes you get Fargo. Sometimes you get Intolerable Cruelty. While they've never made a bad film, sometimes their films just don't "work" and the comedy just doesn't fuse.

Creating a "dark" comedy is a more difficult task than making a broader comedy that might appeal to a less demanding audience since the appeal of it lies in a delicate balance between the funny and the macabre. But would it follow that this film would have found success if different casting choices had been made? It's possible that inherent flaws in the screenplay were too difficult to overcome. The film might have been a success only with the most specific, perfect casting and since that's definitely not the case here, the perfect cast wasn't able to come together to create a natural, comedic film courtesy of the Coen brothers unique type of humor.

Like some of their other mis-fires, the Coens' remake of the 1955 original seems to trip and stumble from a variety of different faults, and blaming only the actors or the screenplay would be insufficient. Comparing this 2004 film to the original would probably be a useless task since the 50-year-gap in time has rendered many comparisons moot, though the Coens look to have tried to honor the story conventions of the original, even if they inserted an over-abundance of swearing into the picture.

The Ladykillers certainly won't entertain the masses and Coen aficionados might find it hard to count this film as a favorite, though the movie is far from a disaster. It is simply an unimpressive product on most fronts, despite fine production values and a lively musical score from Coen favorite, Carter Burwell (though this film isn't one of his better musical outings). This film ranks as a satisfactory film in which Irma P. Hall is the sole shining star and her performance would best be enjoyed via the economical price of a video rental.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

content 2000 - - ninth symphony films - photographs touchstone pictures 2004
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