Saturday, 3 July 2010
The Complete Collection: The Coen Brothers (Part 2)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
So, after the first six years, we find ourselves with an exceptionally moody and classical film as the Coen's tackle the Film Noir genre full-on with a gangster story. The film-noir angle was to be expected and the moody-ness meant not too much comedy ... and with Gabrial Byrne and Albert Finney too, you knew this was going to be a different style of film for the Coen brothers. But wait, we have some correlations still. For one, the entire film sits upon the decision Byrne decides to make when he doesn't kill John Turturro's sneaky character - someone having trouble murdering someone else methinks? and, to top it off, we have some infidelity as Gabriel Byrne is sleeping with his bosses long-time moll Verna. The concern with this film was that, maybe the Coen's were now making what they had always wanted to make - no retro 'style', this film is set in the thirties - but ultimately, the Coen's lost money, becoming a financial flop. This is contrary to strong reviews and, in the long-term, making a whole lot of dosh through DVD sales and rentals. So even a film deemed 'weak' in financial terms, still manages to keep hold of its dignity and ultimately continued to show how The Coen's were no 'freak' occurence or one-trick ponies... they were filmmakers born-and-bred. But it would be a while before they are entrusted to such a big-budget again. Of all the actors cast, we already know of hte 'top trumps' so far - Frances McDormand, John Goodman - and now - John Turturro.
Barton Fink (1991)
Maybe studios were unhappy. Maybe not. From the $14m of Miller's Crossing to the slightly smaller $9m budget of Barton Fink, this next film continued the rise in credability for the Coen's as they win their sole Palme D'or winner. Picking the scene-stealers, rather than the leading men, of the previous two - John Turturro and John Goodman - the Coen's work on a smaller scale, with a film that spends alot of time within a single hotel room. Turturro got Best Actor at Cannes and the brotheres got Best Director so, theoretically, this should be one of their finest. Personally, its not my favourite, but I do think it has a great multi-layered aspect as Turturro has to balance his artistic ambition with actually selling a product. Again, we get a taste of murder as John Goodmans happy-salesman is in fact a serial killer and we even continue the surrealism we have seen in Raising Arizona as the film ends with a spectacular fire within the hotel - horrific and surreal in equal measure. The slight symbolism is introduced as the peeling wallpaper within Barton Finks hellish hotel room mimics John Goodmans ear-infection. Barry Sonnenfeld was not cinematographer on this film either ... but Mr Roger Deakins was pulled in, someone who would stick with the Coen's for a long time to come...
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Ultimately, it commercially flopped and personally, I was not too keen on it myself. Clearly the Coens love the screwball comedies of the forties - because they touch upon it again with Intolerable Cruelty having found their Cary Grant, but this film should have taught them a lesson. The Coen's still worked with their regular crew - and some cast - in the form of Carter Burwells music, Roger Deakins cinematography backed up by Paul Newman and Tim Robbins as the lead actors. But I reckon it was good that this bombed because they had to set the next movie, back to their roots, in Minnesota with only a $7m budget titled...
It also used a 'Based on a True Story' Cue card, when in fact, it was completely false. Some crazy ol' dear even tried to hunt down the money and, ultimately, failed. And died. The dialogue was flawless, the story inspired and it recieved huge success - even winning awards for the screenplay (from Cannes) and garnering some Oscar nominations and BAFTA awards. The Coen's were back on top.
The Dude was completely inspired by close-friend Jeff Dowd, whilst Sobchak was an amalgamation of Pete Exline (a Vietnam veteran) and John Milius - screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and 1941. Funnily enough, Milius had a love of guns akin to Sobchak. Inevitably, the quirky nature of this film was fresh and garnered cult following, cementing the Coen's not only as good story tellers, but intelligent comedy-writers additionally.
You would think that the Coen's clearly had actors set up for the rest of their career but, alas, an actor, akin to Cary Grant and Clark Gable waited in the wing to star in their next film ...