O Brother Where Art Thou

sleeping dog


O, Brother is right. It’s hard to believe this is a film by the same team who brought us that witty and highly original Fargo because not only is this one not funny, it’s downright dumb. This rambling Depression era hillbilly shenanigan saga by Joel and Ethan Coen, if you can believe it, is themed ever so slightly on Homer’s The Odyssey. Why? It’s a mystery and not one worth unraveling. Its title and setting come from the Preston Sturges’ film classic Sullivan’s Travels.

George Clooney plays Everett Ulysses McGill, a verbose and cocky SOB who organizes an escape from a Mississippi chain gang while shackled to Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson), two dumber than dirt lamebrains sporting wide-eyes and drooly-mouths. McGill’s on his way home to find buried treasure and the boys come across a blind “seer” who predicts their journey to be a rough one. They’re chased by the law, confront three sirens, meet a cyclops (a one-eyed John Goodman as a thieving Bible salesman), run across a machine-gun toting gangster named George Nelson who drags them into a bank robbery, come upon a large contingent of Ku Klux Klansman out to hang a black guitar player they meet early on and with whom they manage to record a hit song, McGill discovers that his ex-wife has another suitor and finally they come to influence the Governor’s race.

That’s a lot of stuff for them to wade through. Too bad it’s such a tedious ride. The only shining moments are the hit song “Man of Constant Sorrow” that Clooney mouths and a synchronized song and dance by the KKK; the Christians doing a mass baptism in a river had a nice catchy tune going for themselves too and the film is filled with a number of other bluegrass songs that might get your foot a-stomping. But I don’t remember this being advertised as a musical – it’s a comedy and a very lame one at that.

Even though Clooney does a decent job with his part, he might want to stick to action after this. Holly Hunter shows up near the end as his wife Penny. It’s a thankless role. You get the feeling she was hired just for her Southern accent.

Also features: Charles Durning as Governor Pappy O’Daniel, Michael Badalucco as George “Babyface” Nelson and Chris Thomas King as Tommy Johnson.

Lotta says O Brother, Where Art Thou is a silly dud.

Reviewed 1/10/00.