Posted by: greercn | February 17, 2010

The Coen Brothers – Reconsidered

I recant. When I am wrong, I admit it and move on. It seems that I have missed some essential things about movies made by Joel and Ethan Coen and – they will be very relieved to note – I have seen the light. I love the Coen brothers.

Some of the people I respect most have been working on me to change my mind. My blog post on “A Serious Man” drew some serious fire and I stopped counting at 50 emails saying “Greer, you’re wrong on this. You’re missing something here”.

The detail in the emails was more intellectual, creative and compelling than that, but that’s the gist of it. So, I watched all the Coen brothers’ movies again, including “A Serious Man”. I am still not convinced by that one, okay?

It was my false belief that somewhere after “Blood Simple” and “Fargo”, the Coen movies stopped being compelling. Apart from the gloriously magical and utterly gorgeous Jeff Bridges playing The Dude in “The Big Lebowski”, later Coen movies left me cold.

“Burn After Reading” is hilarious and profound. This may be George Clooney’s best performance ever. I don’t think I have ever really rated Brad Pitt, but he is so funny, I almost fell off the sofa. Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton shine and their energy lights up the engaging story.

The plot twists and turns, but hinges on the essential component of “helplessness”, as detailed in a blog comment and in emails from Peter A, who sat next to me on a flight from Montreal to London in January and watched “A Serious Man” while sitting next to me, despite my negative review. Watching his reactions made me reconsider and his enthusiasm is a very contagious force.

After this, I watched “No Country For Old Men” again. It’s brilliant. I think I originally saw it at the same time as “There Will Be Blood” and feared the Academy was only rewarding the downbeat and depressing. This new viewing convinced me that Tommy Lee Jones is just extraordinary in this movie. Javier Bardem is really scary and Josh Brolin is a fascinating everyman, but the last scenes have haunted me for days and made me think and pushed me back into painting again.

So, Peter A and Tom B and El – there is only one El – you have changed my mind. I will now rush out and see any Coen brothers film that opens. I will search for anything I have missed.

What put me off these films so much, on the first viewings? The violence, swearing and lack of control of the characters over their lives made me deeply uncomfortable. Watching again made me see that these aspects of the stories were “artistically essential to the plot”, as actors used to say to justify nude scenes. I thought these factors lessened the Coen movies. Now, I can see that they are part of the point of the story and character development.

I still like Clint Eastwood best. Bill Forsyth, Peter Weir and Frank Capra are the only directors who will make me love everything they do. But this is the time to declare myself to be a big Coen brothers fan. These are intelligent and funny movies with a heart and soul that always have something to say, love it or leave it. Apparently, I now love them- or, anyway, most of them.


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