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INTOLERABLE CRUELTY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thorton
Director: Joel Coen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: February 10, 2004

"So you propose, that in spite demonstrable infidelity on your part, that your unoffending wife should be tossed out on her ear."

"Well…is that possible?"

"It's a challenge."

Film ***1/2

I entered Intolerable Cruelty with a slight bit of caution. I was only skeptic as to see if the dynamic filmmaking team of brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, who have long been known for their quirky independent fare, could deliver with a big studio release with a much larger budget. Although a good number of their films, especially Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou, had resulted in something of crossover successes. Another element that had me crossing my fingers even more was that it was being advertised as a straight up romantic comedy, a genre I could never imagine the Coens even bothering with.

Thankfully, my skepticism was washed away about a few minutes into the movie, which is a biting charmer of a dark comedy. In some ways, it could be considered an all out satire on the divorce process. The Coen's winning sense of edginess helps fuel this romp, which also manages to include the undeniable chemistry of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and although they are the two ideal stars for the ultimate romantic comedy, the screenplay, co-written by the Coens, is special in the way it strays from the conventions of the genre.

The hero of the story, for the male side that is, is Miles Massey (Clooney) a hot shot Beverly Hills divorce attorney who's as unbeatable as they come. Living an extraordinarily wealthy life, Miles is more concerned with the destruction of his opponent than how soon he can add another Mercedes to his collection, since he has a tab at the dealership. On the opposite side is Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones), who is looking to nail her cheating husband, Rex (Edward Herrmann), for all the assets. But as it turns out, the infidelity on the husband's part didn't really cause the divorce proceedings, as Marylin was planning on walking away with all the money, having made Rex fall so hard in love with her that the idea of a prenup seemed uncalled for.

Even though Miles is representing Rex in the divorce proceedings, he too is soon caught under Marylin's seductive spell. With the divorce matter is over, Miles still finds himself fascinated by this creature, as he puts it, and tries to charm her, even as she shows up on the arm of a rich oil tycoon (Billy Bob Thorton), for which looks like another potential cash in for Marylin, in the wake of another purposefully ill fated marriage without the presence of a prenup.

So do Miles and Marylin ever manage to win each others hearts? I won't reveal quite what happens, but I will say that the movie hits moments of comedic brilliance in the later points of the film, which is where the comedy turns a little dark, much in the Coen Brothers' tradition. It leads to the late introduction of an asthmatic hit man, and it leads to quite possibly the single biggest laugh I had in any movie in a long long time. I think back to the first time I saw Cameron Diaz apply the hair gel in There's Something About Mary, only I think I laughed longer and harder during this scene.

With Intolerable Cruelty, Joel and Ethan Coen demonstrate that they can still deliver a quirky and edgy comedy outside their usual independent circuit, even though their last several films have been a bit more mainstream since the days of Fargo and Blood Simple. Clooney has never been more engagingly charming and Catherine has never, I stress the word NEVER, looked more sultry and beautiful than she does here, and she pulls of the role with flying colors.

For a romantic comedy, Intolerable Cruelty must be given lots of credit for broadening the conventions of the genre.

Video ****

Universal has no doubt released their first great looking release of the year. With cinematographer Roger Deakins once again working under the Coen's, the movie has sure enough been given an already memorable and striking look to it. Like his photographed work for O Brother, Where Art Thou and The Man Who Wasn't There, Deakins creates shots that do nothing short of bringing the atmosphere to life. Picture clarity is at its utmost highest, and colors are bright and beautifully natural as can be.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is livelier than you may expect. Being a Coen Brothers film, one should expect the extra kicks provided within the soundmix. Music playback is very well handled, as classics by Simon and Garfunkel and Elvis Presley appear in clear form, as does the breezy score by Carter Burwell. Dialogue is at its sharpest delivery, and numerous scenes of dark comedy have a good sounding payoff as well.

Features **

The only lacking area of the disc. Included are two brief featurettes, one on the production and one on the wardrobe, as well as some outtakes and some of Rex Rexroth's home movies (mostly of trains).

Summary:

The Coen Brothers have always managed to impress me with every distinct piece of work they deliver, and Intolerable Cruelty is certainly no exception. Big on wit and huge with outrageous laughs, this is one of the 2003's most hilarious offerings.