Coen Brothers:

There is a memorable scene during the final moments of Fargo where the film’s heroine gives a speech about how far people will go for money.
“There’s more to life than a little money you know” says the pregnant police officer. The men who wrote this line, Joel and Ethan Coen, may have disregarded the point their infamous character was trying to make.
No, the Coen Brothers didn’t dispose of bodies through a wood-chipper, but they nearly tarnished a reputable filmography by trying to appeal to the people who just didn’t get their movies.
Those who have appreciated the Coen Brothers before the disasters that were Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers know what the classics are: Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski and O’Brother Where Art Thou. None were huge successes at the box office, but it seems that the mark of a great director is his or her inability to attract large audiences.
What then possessed the Coen Brothers, who are known for their dark humor, haunting plots and irreproachable writing, to make films that painfully conform to Hollywood norms? Intolerable Cruelty had the promise of being a romantic comedy written in blood but ended being just like any other, with the annoying and predictable ending inserted for good measure.
Their last release, The Ladykillers, had the filmmakers abandoning their distinctiveness by remaking the 1955 version. The film was supposed to be a dark comedy, and while it did bring in some laughs, they weren’t delivered for the right reasons. Eleanor Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal put it very concisely, demanding that the filmmakers “go back to making independent films”. Maybe the Coen Brothers neglected their own unique touch on their work in order to appeal to a broader, less open-minded audience, and in that they failed.
The films were supposed to bring in the big bucks at the box office, but flopped instead. Corporate lawyer Belinda Hader calls herself one of the Coen Brothers’ biggest fans, but agrees that their last two films failed to live up to her expectations.
“Coen fans expect a certain feel and style in their films as well as a second degree in their stories and characters. Both these movies lacked the style we’re accustomed to, meaning there were no memorable characters, and forgettable plot lines” says the 25 year-old. “Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers are Movies that seemed to have been made to attract a mainstream audience. But the die-hard fans expect to care about nothing more than their movies, not their audience.”
John Griffin, the Montreal Gazette movie critic, doesn’t agree with this notion however. “I don’t think they’ve blunted edge for box office acceptance” says Griffin. “Filmmaking is a chemical process. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t”.
Griffin also doesn’t feel that the Coen Brothers would sink to that level. “They’re about as honest a pair of artists as the medium offers.” Film buffs are a sometimes unforgiving crowd nonetheless and many would have given up at this point, but it seems all is not lost for the filmmakers, with their newest film, No Country for Old Men, due out this November.
The movie, which is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, is described as a contemporary western, and judging by trailers, clips and early reviews, it is shaping up to be the Coen Brothers’ return to form. Strong language, violence, dark comical relief and gripping suspense are essential elements faithful fans will be looking for when the film, which competed for top prizes at the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals, hits theatres on November 9th.
If the film can sustain positive reviews from critics and fans as well as perform at the box office, then movie buffs can breathe a sigh of relief and feel confident that the Coen Brothers have bounced back from a temporary fruitless phase of Hollywood conformity.


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