Fantastic. I really don’t know how else to start off this review. The Ladykillers is fantastic.
Every element is so well rendered, so meticulously worked over… such
brilliance. Wow. OK, I have collected myself a bit. Above all, what
struck me like a bolt during Ladykillers is what superb
chroniclers of Americana the Coen Brothers are. Their larger vision
became apparent, or I should say more apparent, to me. Like in their
masterwork, The Big Lebowski, the story is altogether secondary
to the moods, philosophies and mannerisms of the characters. After all,
the story is a remake of a 1955 Alec Guinness film of the same title.
Then the question becomes: Why bother with retelling the story, which,
honestly, is not anywhere near to the greatest ever told? (The greatest
story ever told being Dr. Strangelove, and not some antiquated fairy tale.)
The answer to the above question is unequivocally “America.”
Only a country as magnificent and completely absurd as ours could fill
the screen with such a collection of maniacs, lunatics, and charlatans and
have them all be instantly recognizable! This is the genius of the
Coens. Only they can take a room full of people you wouldn’t want to
sit in the same restaurant with and not only make them seem like
in-laws, but somehow appealing as well. Allow me to detail (yes, I like making lists);
Professor G.H. Dorr Ph.D (Hanks) — A classic
faux-aristocratic southern snake oil salesman whose gift of gab is
outshined only by the stench of his B.S. You can almost taste the
bourbon-soaked treacle hanging on his breath. The Coens seem to really
enjoy characters like this and had not one (Clooney), but two (Goodman) of the same sort of gentlemen in O Brother, Where Art Thou? In Barton Fink,
Goodman (again) portrayed a windbag who spat out an almost never ending
stream of beautiful bullshit. Same with Goodman’s awesome co-star,
Michael Lerner (“General” Jack Lipnick). Other examples of these
blowhards abound in their work, and Tom Hanks admirably takes over the
reins. Why are the Coens so obsessed with this style of character? Who
knows, but they are funny as hell. Interestingly, here, Hanks’s
“Professor” manages to rise above the din of his own voice and is quite
moving at times. Like the little old church ladies he seduces with
sonnets by Edgar Allen Poe, his continual pap-ridden ramblings quickly
morphed into poetry for me and I sat, with a grin encrusted jaw,
lapping up every word. There is a rhythm to his nonsense that soothes
the ear so… Plus, his two mortal fears are the cops and church. As a
wiser person than me once stuck on their back bumper, “Freedom is the
distance between church and state.”
- Marva Munson (Hall) — You want to know who should win the
Oscar next year for best supporting actress? Irma P. Hall. She is
outstanding. Really, the highlight of the film. Hall seemed to be an
actual “real” person surrounded by a group of character actors. It
perplexes me that in real life Hall is not actually the widow
Marva Munson, whose entire life is church, talking to a portrait of her
dead husband and giving $5 a week to Bob Jones University. I mean, that was a character? Oh my… Fan-frigging-tastic my friends.
- Garth Pancake (Simmons) – A true dilettante in the most
disturbing sense of the word; amateur at everything, expert at nothing.
I have great fears that the preceding could be my tombstone… Simmons
is the best of the supporting cast. In his opening scene he suffocates
a bulldog and then attempts to give it mouth-to-mouth, all the while
acting as he knows exactly what he is doing. Never, at any point does
he have the slightest clue! Also, his moments with Wayans are the
funniest parts of a very funny movie. And as he did in Spiderman (as Jonah Jameson), Simmons “supporting” character threatens to usurp the principals.
- Gawain MacSam (Wayans) – A bit of a stereotype, to be
sure, but a very funny one. Gawain is the inside man for the heist,
working as a janitor on the riverboat the “team” is going to burgle. He
gets fired for asking a customer to show him, “just one butt cheek.” As
I mentioned above, he and Simmons are hilarious together. The two form
sort of the ultimate odd couple. At one point Pancake is explaining to
Waynes how he wound up in Mississippi; he was a freedom rider in the
60s, trying to make sure “you got the vote.” Wayans retort, one
of the more brilliant I have ever heard to such pandering and
condescending liberal bullshit, is “I don’t vote, motherfucker!” Bravo.
- The General (Ma) and Lump (Hurst) – Two
ancillary characters who both have their moments. The General is some
sort of runaway Diem-type who is as laconic as he is cold-blooded. He
practically steals the movie with his longest line of dialogue, “Must
float like leaf down river of life. And kill old lady.” Lump is the
weakest part of the whole affair. He is basically the dumbest jock in
the world who at times says very brilliant things. A little too similar
to the “Oxford” character in the “Flying Hellfish” Simpsons episode,
but, a caricature is a caricature. He gave good face and looked
especially funny holding his oversized French horn.
Faults with the film besides Lump? I’m starting to worry that Mr. T-Bone Burnett is becoming a little too
involved the Coen’s creative process. For those not in the know, T-Bone
is the “executive music producer.” While the music was definitely
good—and obscure enough to sound fresh—it was a bit overpowering. Also,
it seemed to me that a chunk of the story got left on the cutting room
floor. Especially the tunnel building sequence. But I’m just being
picky, for, like I said, The Ladykillers is about character and
tension much more so than story. OK, I didn’t mention tension before,
but there are some wonderuflly unexpected moments of suspense casually
scattered throughout the film. Gives it a nice roller coaster effect,
So I urge you to go and see this fantastic movie. Laugh at yourself America, for we truly are the most entertaining and
full-of-shit country the world has ever known. The Coens are acutely
aware of this fact and spare no expense pointing it out to us. Lazy
Sheriffs, mindless church folk, hopelessly out of touch academics,
broke-ass gangstas, and complete incompetents who will blow their own
fingers off before letting down their phony airs for one second. We’re
all lampooned to the nines here in The Ladykillers. Laughing at
one’s own self, to me at least, is the jumping off point for the
majority of worthwhile endeavors. One of which is of course getting off
your fat American-ass and watching this gem of a film.
Special Ruthless Ratings:
- What about the 26% of your readership who isn’t American: They should just pick a favorite American and emphasize through them.
- Number of people who clapped at the conclusion of The Ladykillers: 0
- Number of people in the same theater who clapped the week before for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a very good but inferior by comparison movie: 2 or so dozen.
- Number of people in the same theater a month before who clapped for The Passion of the Christ: Most of the people in the theater.
- What does this tell you: America needs more movies like The Ladykillers
that examine what pompous, irascible, yet loveable oafs us Americans
are. We’re pretty dumb, too. As well as ascetically challeneged. Boors
all around, etc.
- How’d you get so perfect: Shut up.