The least heralded of the Coen brothers' films, but a great homage to films of the Golden Age that depend upon an irresistible chemistry between the lead actors, tinged with as much friction as passion.
And now Intolerable Cruelty is available to buy on Blu-ray.What seems on first inspection to be the least Coen brothers-like Coen brothers film (alongside probably The Ladykillers, curiously made in tandem), actually bears far more resemblance to the Coens' zaniest work Raising Arizona than their later, darker works might allow us to remember, but the similarities are certainly there. The script is incredibly sharp, and fast-paced, reminiscent at times of the best Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall, and the witty, smart dialogue is like honey in the mouths of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones.
In all honesty, Zeta Jones has rarely been better, and her intentional aloof-ness works as the perfect foil for Clooney's slightly manic, love-sick control freak. Both characters are typically Coen-esque grotesques - their quirks are only slightly heightened, so they don't appear to be hugely at odds with their traditional frictional rom-com environment. It is chiefly the decision to make such a conventional rom-com (albeit with more screw-ball characters) that has determined the accusations that the Coens somehow dropped the ball on this one by being too restrained.
What I don't understand is why the Coens have been chastised in some circles for the film's lack of inventiveness - true they have produced some of the most dazzling films in recent memory, but to discount a project simply because it doesn't fit in with the rest of the film-makers' canon of work is lunacy, when it ignores the essential value of the film itself! Ok, so it is painfully obvious that it isn't their script (hence the restrained nature of the screw-ball touches), and it is a little too consciously main-stream but neither facts should detract from the good points.
And in itself, the film is indeed great. As an exercise in sexual magnetism it can't really be beaten, and the chemistry between the leads has rarely been seen since Clark Gable was wooing many a starlette opposite him on screen. And even rarer still, in a romantic comedy that is primarily only about its two stars - the story definitely plays second fiddle to their devious machinations - is that it isn't an empty fluff piece. It wouldn't work without them, but in the hands of the Coens it also never descends to just being two hours of filmographical sycophantic fawning.
Thanks in part to exceptional source material, the transfer's detail is very good, and colour is equally as impressive, with good tonal difference and definition, but the transfer is undone by one thing above all else: the sound is sadly awful. I thought there must be something wrong with my TV when the difference between levels in dialogue and music were so enormous - Clooney spends a lot of time talking quite quietly, and rapid-fire, and it is occasionally difficult to hear him at what I would call normal volume level. But even at that level the music is bloody blaring and it's extremely off-putting. Don't watch it at night if you have housemates or family under the same roof who are asleep if you want to hear both speech and music- that's just not a happy combination.
No matter how good a film looks - and it does - something as fundamentally flawed in this manner just cant be enjoyed very easily without frustration.
*Note - stills in this piece are DVD screengrabs and not Blu-ray.
For some reason, my copy's Extras section wouldn't work, and trying to find the details online to share proved fruitless to say the least.