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O BROTHER, Where Art Thou? (2000)
This 1930's southern odyssey adventure tells the tale of three petty criminal convicts, Everett, Pete and Delmar who escape from their Mississippi chain gang, to seek a supposed treasure that Everett buried in a valley, scheduled to be flooded by the new state dam. They face both good and bad delays, distracting, sometimes dangerous temptations and some nasty foes along the way to their personal discovery of true, life changing treasure, more valuable than any stolen heist money.
Screenplay and Direction - by the Joel and Ethan Cohen - Based on Homer's poem, The Iliad and the Odyssey. Wonderful soundtrack has around 19 songs; old-time gospel and country music and African-American spirituals.
The cast includes: George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning, Chris Thomas King, Michael Badallucco, Wayne Duvall, Daniel von Bargen, Lee Weaver, Frank Collison, and Stephen Root.
Promotional Line: "They have a plan, but not a clue."
This hilarious adventure story, based on Homer's poem, The Iliad and the Odyssey, begins by showing a 1930's Mississippi chain gang singing (Prisoners' "Po' Lazarus) while working at smashing rocks along a roadside. Suddenly, we see three of the chain gang members escaping through a farmer's field, still chained together. They stop to rest at some railroad tracks, after trying unsuccessfully to board a moving boxcar, because of their chains.
The audience learns that the instigator of this prison break was a silver-tongued, flim flam con artist by the name of Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), who is partial to Dapper Dan hair gel. Everett had talked the other two prisoners, Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete (John Turturro), whom he was chained with, into coming with him to find the 1.2 million of heist money that he had said he had buried in a valley that was about to be covered in water.
Along comes an old blind black Seer (Lee Weaver), moving up the train tracks on a hand cart, who stops to foresee their upcoming trek."You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first... first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. " Fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation."
The blind Seer wasn't kidding. On top of everything else they will face in their upcoming adventure, our three hero "band of miscreants", are being chased throughout the film by an "all powerful hateful pursuer," the murderous Sheriff Cooley (Daniel von Bergen) and his boys, who aren't the forgiving types.
While they get their chains off and put on some civilian clothes at farm of Pete's cousin, Washington Hog Wallup (Frank Collison) they also get an early morning wake up call, courtesy of Sheriff Cooley, who torches the barn they were sleeping in, because Wash turned them in for the reward money. As they escape the flames in a car, driven by Wash's son, the Sheriff's truck, full of ammunition explodes because of the torch thrown at it by our heroes.
Thus, begins their long journey, with twists and turns in the plot to keep things entertaining and never boring. When the trio finds themselves drawn to the river, by a robed, Christian singing congregation (singing a beautiful rendition of "Down to the River to Pray") who are baptizing people, Pete and Delmar are divinely inspired and are baptized as well, being saved, which changes their attitudes toward others, and leads to a very good delay in their journey.
Still in Wash's car, they continue on and pick up a young, black guitar player, Tommy Johnson (blues singer, Chris Thomas King), at the urging of Pete, who was inspired by his baptism to help others. Tommy tells them that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for guitar lessons. Tommy tells them of an opportunity to make some money by just singing into a microphone at WEZY Radio, for a guy named Lund (Stephen Root). Lund, who is blind, offers musicians who sing "old timey" songs, ten dollars a piece!
So, the four of them become 'The Soggy Bottom Boys', on the spot. They perform a classic country tune, "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," which thoroughly delights Lund, who records it on a big record along with the other tunes for the radio program. Unknown to these four, Lund isn't the only one who will love this performance. This delay really pays off not only in the short term, but also saves the day near the end of the story.
Despite having money in their pockets, they are back at square one when they escape on foot once again from Sheriff Cooley and his posse, losing their car in the process. Tommy ran off, leaving just Everett, Delmar and Pete. A huge temptation in the form of the notorious bank robber falls into their path, when George "Babyface " Nelson (Michael Badallucco) picks them up, giving them a ride. Their adventure with him nearly sucks them into a real life of crime, but fortune intervenes.
After stealing a car, they travel down the road. Suddenly, Pete wants out. He jumps out of the car, and runs down by the river, where 3 young women, who are washing their clothes and are seductively singing, "Go to sleepy little Baby." Soon, all three men are mesmerized by these Southern Sirens, falling under their seductive spell, falling asleep.
Everett and Delmar wake up to find only Pete's clothes, laying flat on the river side. Delmar is horrified when he sees a toad hop from out of Pete's clothes, fully convinced that they had "loved up" Pete, and turned him into one. Everett isn't so sure. Everett and Delmar continue on and stop to eat at roadside diner, bringing the toad along, where a one-eyed supposed Bible salesman (the Cohen's version of a Cyclops), Big Dan Teague (John Goodman) introduces himself, and becomes trouble.
Their courage is further tested when they rescue Pete, from the clutches of Sheriff Cooley and make yet more enemies when they rescue Tommy Johnson from a KKK lynch party. This sequence of scenes with the KKK is one of my favorites. The three peak over a ridge, and spy a huge group of hooded and robed clan chanting, which reminds one of the scene in The Wizard of Oz, where the lion, Tin man and scarecrow look down on the guards at the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. A red robed leader sings a song, while they start their ceremonial dance. After seeing that the guards have Tommy in tow, and that Tommy was going to be the guest of honor at a necktie party, they come up with a plan to rescue him.
The secondary story in this film is the gubernatorial race, between incumbent Governor Menelaus 'Pappy' O'Daniel (Charles Durning) and his reform challenger, Homer Stokes (Wayne Duvall), who has Vernon Waldrip as his campaign manager. Everett and his two friends briefly meet Pappy at the radio station, but this story line cleverly comes together with the main story towards the end of the film. Pappy is in political trouble, as Homer Stokes is taking the lead in their race. But, not to worry; Pappy is a wily politician, and takes advantage of a situation that lands in his lap, which involves The Soggy Bottom Boys, and a revelation about Homer Stokes.
This secondary story about the political race first enters the main plot line when Everett and Delmar finally arrive at Everett's hometown, and discover a political rally going on for Homer Stokes in the town's square. In between musical numbers of his country band ("You Are My Sunshine;" to the and "Keep On the Sunny Side"), and the songs sung by four of Everett's young daughters, Stokes stumps his campaign.
After his young daughters sing on stage, Everett finds out what their mom, Penny Wharvey McGill (Holly Hunter) is up to, concerning her new suitor. We find that Everett has a total of 6 little girls and that his Ex wife is planning to marry a "bonified" provider with an honest job, Vernon T. Waldrip (Ray Mckinnon). Everett it seems had gotten a letter in prison from her, telling him of her intentions. How will Everett, with the help of his friends win her heart and get his family back?
The final hellish showdown with Cooley and company nearly ends in certain death for our heroes, but providence intervenes once more in a most surprising way.
It is safe to say that Everett, Delmar and Pete find a treasure much more valuable than any money heist. They discover something positive within themselves that changes how they will live their lives from that point forward, which will lead to more happiness and avoid the troubles they had formerly found themselves in due to their own behavior. They are reformed and forgiven and can choose to start new lives.
Known for their unusual films, Joel and Ethan Cohen have created a cult classic, that inspires multiple viewings, as there are several levels of enjoyment to be found in the screenplay. Combining colorful characters, a humorous, yet exciting, suspenseful adventure storyline, witty, humorous dialogue with a underlying message and a glorious sound track, this film is a must for any DVD collector.
As this story takes place back in the 1930's depression era in the state of Mississippi, it makes sense to use the music most popular with the people of that era, which consists of old-time gospel and country music and African-American spirituals, which are the roots of country music. Like American Graffiti, the music flows through the film, supporting the storyline. The CD of the original musical score (T Bone Burnett and Carter Burwell), plus the non-original songs, which were arranged by Chris Thomas King (portrayed Tommy Johnson), is very popular with music lovers as well.
The performances of the talented cast of actors and actresses assembled by the Cohen brothers give the best of themselves to tell this story, under the great direction of Joel and Ethan.
George Clooney excels as the rascally Ulysses Everett McGill, a man with the charming verbal gift of gab and persuasion, and a gift of being able to think quickly in a "tight spot." Clooney, with a sparkle in his eyes, is most enjoyable in this lead part, and has perfect comic timing and camaraderie with the ensemble cast. Clooney won a golden globe for his efforts in this part.
Tim Blake Nelson, who comically portrays Delmar, and Cohen regular, John Turturro who expertly portrays Pete with varying emotions, both give great supporting actor performances, and are skilled at comical improvisation.
George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Turturro are all convincing as the Soggy Bottom Boys, as they all have great showmanship, and feeling when they sing.
My favorite scene with these three takes place in the town movie house, where Everett and Delmar go to think things through about Everett's problem with his wife. Suddenly, the film stops and a chain gang officer opens the door, and in trot the old members of their chain gang, who had earned a treat and had come to see the film too. And, guess who is there? Pete! Pete and Delmar have a stage whisper conversation, that included the following lines. Pete: "DON'T SEEK THE TREASURE!" - Delmar: "WE THOUGHT YOU WAS A TOAD!!"
Holly Hunter (RAISING ARIZONA) has a small but important part, where she expertly portrays Penny Wharvey McGill, determined to be married to a man who can provide an honest living to support her and the children. No more flim flam men, thank you very much, who pretend to be something they are not.
John Goodman (RAISING ARIZONA) had a really good time portraying the one-eyed, two-faced Bible salesman, Big Dan Teague who not only gulps down Everett's and Delmar's lunch, but proceeds to beat them up, steals their money, and kills their toad for good measure. The boys run into him later in the story, and have another tangle with him.
Rated PG-13 for some violence and language. There are some scenes that would disturb younger children. Pete is shown being whipped by prison personnel. Everett takes the Lord's name in vain, but is sternly corrected by the store clerk.
Everett: "I'm a Dapper Dan Man" & "Damn, we're in a tight spot."
Wash Hogwallop, explaining what happened to his wife: "She R-U-N-O-F-T".