With “Intolerable Cruelty,” Ethan and Joel Coen take a break
from the groundbreaking filmmaking of their past and hurtle
themselves headlong into a lighthearted comedic romp. “Cruelty”
lacks the dynamic, genre-bending qualities of such films as “Fargo”
and “The Big Lebowski,” but the Brothers inject just enough wit and
charm to keep the film afloat.
George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a Los Angeles divorce
attorney – best known for penning the impenetrable Massey Pre-Nup –
who is hired by wealthy businessman Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann)
to protect Rexroth’s fortune from his ex-wife, Marilyn
(Zeta-Jones). Although Miles wins the case and leaves Marilyn
without a bit of her husband’s fortune, Marilyn shows up in Miles’
office soon after to draft a pre-nup for her marriage to oil tycoon
Howard Doyle (Thornton) as part of a fiendish plot to take half of
his fortune. Miles and Marilyn eventually find themselves falling
for each other; on the surface they’re both shifty and shrewd, but
deep down they’re in search of love.
Effortlessly exchanging trademark Coen witticisms, Clooney and
Zeta-Jones play their characters flawlessly. With Clooney’s dashing
good looks and Zeta-Jones’ stunning beauty, the pair’s star power
bursts from the screen, and they often playfully pose for the
camera. The Coens provide their stars with an eccentric supporting
cast including the unconventional private investigator Gus Petch
(Cedric the Entertainer), who delights in showing videos of his
work to his friends, the colorful – both physically and
behaviorally – concierge Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy (Jonathan
Hadary) and the asthmatic hit man Wheezy Joe (Irwin Keyes), who is
responsible for the film’s most shockingly comedic moment.
As amusing as “Intolerable Cruelty” is, it lacks the supreme
depth and the careful balance of dark humor and emotional truth
that audiences have come to expect from the Coen Brothers. To be
sure, “Cruelty” is an enjoyable film, and everyone involved quite
obviously enjoyed making it. But with that out of their systems,
it’s time for the Coens to get back to work.
Rating: 3 stars.