Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 22, 2000
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Reimagined classics have often hit the big screen, but none have done so with more fervor than the Coen brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” an adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey” brought into the near-modern era of 1930s Mississippi. Starring George Clooney as Everett McGill, John Turturro as Pete Hogwallop, and Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar O’Donnell, this film follows these three men’s adventures after they escape from a Mississippi chain gang and attempt to recover money stolen from a bank heist that Everett has buried on his land.
Along their journey, these men run into numerous strange and memorable characters, including a Cyclops, a blind prophet, a lynch mob, and sirens, among others. After escaping from the chain gang, the trio of men rushes to recover the valuable treasure that’s buried at Everett’s house. They race against the hands of time, because in four days, the valley where the money is hidden will be flooded to create a new lake. After making a break for it, the men try unsuccessfully to ride a train. Later, they meet a blind man who tells them their futures, including that they seek a great fortune. After they arrive at the house of Pete’s cousin, they are freed from their chains and are subsequently pursued by the police.
In the following scenes, the men are baptized, become singing stars, have a run-in with a bank robber, and are seduced by three laundry-washing sirens down the river. Separated from Pete after being convinced that he was turned into a toad by the seductive laundresses, they are later reunited, and their untruths are brought to life. Everett admits there is no fortune and that he convinced the other two men to escape just so he could reconcile with his wife. The fame the men garnered as the Soggy Bottom Boys eventually gives them a full pardon for their escape, although one vigilant sheriff still pursues the escaped convicts.
Throughout the film, the use of modern characters to replace the mythical creatures of the classic Greek epic gives the viewer an unforgettable experience. Aligned with the emotional connection invoked by the rich folk music, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is an epic adventure and a rousing success of an adaptation. The Coen brothers, who are known for their unique comedic films like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski,” paint a picture of the Deep South in the 1930s that is sure to be memorable to viewers. The sepia tones and contemporary folk music leave viewers feeling as if they were whisked back in time on a magical journey. The musical contributions of Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, and Dan Tyminski, who provided the lead vocals on the film’s hit song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” join with music from many other musicians to create an unprecedented film soundtrack.
One of the major backdrops of the film is the rich history of political campaigning in southern rural America. The feuding candidates, Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel and Homer Stokes, use music and rousing public speaking to win over constituents while fighting their inner demons of hatred and a superiority complex. As with many Coen brother movies, the cast of “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is truly an ensemble act, with even small appearances tying into the larger story and leaving a memorable mark on the viewer. Led by Clooney and Turturro, this rag-tag group brings the story, setting, and politics of the Deep South to life. Many of the issues in the film are the ones society still faces today, yet the film is not overtly political.
Many of the Coen brothers’ films are now parts of popular culture. “O Brother, Where Art Thou” is no different. The witty script and unique characters truly bring this classic tale to life in a new, interesting way. The original tale of Odysseus is re-imagined in a successful and fun story that gives the audience an understandable perspective on a daunting Greek epic. Although the tale is a loose adaptation, it contains characters and situations that bring the essence and adventure of the original “Odyssey” into nearly modern times.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou” is a film that as achieved what few can: both critical and financial success. As a re-imagined story, this film is a feat that’s all the more impressive. The performances of Clooney, Turturro, and Nelson are remarkable, and the creative genius of Joel and Ethan Coen shines through the brown-baked countryside of Mississippi. This film is a great choice for a fun adventure from the comfort of the couch. Whether a viewer is looking for comedy, drama, excitement, adventure, or all of the above, “O Brother, Where Art Thou” fits the bill for any movie night.