I’m sure that I have made numerous references before about my affinity for the Coen Brothers‘ film work. When I was younger, I would tear through their catalog and grab anything that I could get my hands on. Sometimes, I would even get my hands on something and it would find its way into one of my over-sized pockets. I loved everything that the duo would put out. Their strengths have always been their storylines and character development; the things that really make for a quality film and that mainstream Hollywood have made less and less of a priority. The CGI effects and explosions have become like visual/action porn. “Fuck the story, let’s remove any real substance and just give them something mind numbing to get off too!”
The only Coen film that never really moved me was Barton Fink, a film about writers block that made me feel like I had it, but I still appreciated their left-field approach with the project. Guessing the popularity of an upcoming release from the brothers, was parallel to throwing a dart with your eyes closed. Maybe it would hit. Probably, it wouldn’t. I saw Raising Arizona  in the theater, but the next 3 films, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and Hudsucker Proxy, I had to seek out and/or rent later. Hudsucker did “all right” but, not until the release of Fargo in 1996, did the auteurs really have much of a fanbase. They followed Fargo up with The Big Lebowski, which at the time wasn’t very successful, and then onto O’ Brother Where Art Thou, which was championed for it’s soundtrack and casting of George Clooney. Most people never saw their next film, The Man Who Wasn’t There, but I actually own it. They had stumbled into a weird alternating pattern, where they would create a film that was widely popular and then make one that fell abandoned to the wayside. I believe that their latest film, A serious Man, will most likely fall into the category of the latter. Personally, I welcome it.
Around 2003-2007, I had all but given up on the Coen Bros. In a two year period, the writing/directing team released the back to back disappointments Intolerable Cruelty and The LadyKillers. LadyKillers starred Marlon Wayans and Tom Hanks. I couldn’t even make it through that one. Intolerable Cruelty was probably the most “Hollywood” film that I’ve ever seen by the Coens, with starring roles by George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones. The quirky characters in the film played as low-quality parodies of those from their previous work. When did George Clooney become the Coen‘s golden boy? What happened to our indie film heroes and character actors like Steve Buscemi and Philip Seymour Hoffman? I thought it was over for the Coens, as far as them producing brave and innovative movies that I would want to see. When No Country For Old Men came out, it was a triumphant return for team, which resulted in justified Oscar honors alongside P.T. Anderson, another one of my favorite, under-appreciated filmmakers. Their last film, Burn After Reading, was nothing to write home about, but it was still worth watching. George Clooney was good in O’ Brother, but that should have been a one off. He just doesn’t have the range of a John Goodman or Turturro and, by centering a film around Brad Pitt and Clooney, it just felt like too much like an episode of MTV‘s Made where the cool kids and jocks decided to take over the school play.
For the upcoming A Serious Man, the Coens have put together a cast of mostly unknown actors, with the biggest names being Adam Arkin and Richard Kind. They have also continued with their pattern of setting their films in random, and generally untouched, backdrops and time periods. One of the best things about the brothers’ work is that, unlike someone like Michael Bay, they have managed to take their multi-dimensional characters through these varying landscapes and make it work in new ways, time and time again. If there is a consistent pattern throughout their tales, it would have to be the concept of an unsuspecting focal character being suddenly thrust into complicated scenarios that are beyond their normal everyday lives (The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Barton Fink, Burn After Reading, etc). A Serious Man doesn’t sway from that format. I plan to check this film out and am hopeful for a positive outcome. Honestly, if it didn’t have the Coen name stamped on it, I probably wouldn’t give the film too much thought, simply based on this trailer. After No Country For Old Men, however, they have won me back as a viewer and their credits mean a great deal to me again. Regardless of what one might expect to receive from a viewing of one of their films, I believe that the greatest thing that they have ever been able to do is keep us guessing.http://movies.apple.com/movies/focus_features/aseriousman/aseriousman_480p.mov
A Serious Man
In theaters: October 2, 2009
“A Serious Man” is the story of an ordinary man’s search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and “F-Troop” is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous colleagues, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larry’s unemployable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolf) is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job. While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry’s chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person – a mensch – a serious man?
- Director:Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
- Cast:Michael Stuhlbarg, Sari Lennick, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus, Adam Arkin