Monday, 25 November 2019

Mubi Monday: Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

My reasons for picking specific titles to review are myriad and often a lot less organised, or sensible, than they should be. Take the choice for today, for example, a rom-com from the Coen brothers that many would probably often forget is even part of their filmography. Many might even prefer it not to be in there. Which is a great shame, as Intolerable Cruelty holds up as yet another showcase for the talented siblings to pick a genre they enjoy and have fun showing their mastery of it.

George Clooney is perfectly cast as the smooth-talking and perfectly-groomed divorce lawyer, Miles Massey. Often defying the odds, and relishing the challenge, Miles has an amazing record for helping his clients get everything they want, even if they are not the wronged party. But he's been finding himself thinking some quite unique, potentially dangerous, thoughts recently, made more troubling as he gets involved in a case that leads to him withholding a huge payout from the beautiful Marylin (Catherine Zeta Jones). What follows involves love, pain, and the infamous "Massey pre-nup".

Very much in line with other Coen brothers movies, in terms of the snappy dialogue and assortment of memorable characters, Intolerable Cruelty is knockabout fare of the highest order, focused on two gorgeous leads who are surrounded by a fine collection of people taking on fun supporting roles. Geoffrey Rush is the cheated-upon spouse who finds his wife with another man, leading us to be introduced to the smooth ways of Massey. Edward Herrmann is the first husband of Zeta Jones, bringing the two leads together for the central conflict, while Billy Bob Thornton is the second. Cedric The Entertainer is an investigator who often shouts out a catchphrase he has coined as he gathers video evidence of extra-marital affairs. And Paul Adelstein is Wrigley, a man in awe of Massey until he sees how major changes start to affect his life, while Richard Jenkins is the poor attorney often at the other side of battles against the winning teams.

It may not always look as good as many of their other movies, the production design is relatively clean and simple throughout, but shot choice and style are, as ever with the Coens, in line with the type of film they are most trying to emulate. Rom-coms are not known for their lavish sets or dizzying cinematography, therefore we don't get those things here.

The script is even funnier than I remembered, either in terms of the actual dialogue or the delivery (Clooney is so good in this kind of comedic role that I wish we'd seen him in more of them, classic deliveries matching his old-school movie star looks), and the whole thing sets all of the plot points up briskly enough and positively dashes through the 100-minute runtime.

I know that some automatically dislike the stars here, but they're both doing some of their best (or, at the very least, most fun) work, and casting them in these roles was a typically-great decision from the Coen brothers. It's hard to pick any one favourite from the supporting players either, with so many good moments to choose from. Everyone is hilariously over the top, and Rush sets the tone perfectly in the opening scenes, but I think I'll take this opportunity to highlight Jenkins, who does such wonderful work in a role that isn't as immediately full of comedic potential as the others, yet his performance just sprinkles more treats throughout the runtime.

The soundtrack is wonderful, the character developments, and small twists and turns, are constantly amusing, and this remains a fun time. I'm not going to argue that it's a masterpiece, or deserves to be in the top tier of a filmography from two men who have given audiences so many modern classics, but I am going to encourage people to either check it out or revisit it. You may realise that it's a lot more fun than given credit for.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get it here.

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