Movieline's Hollywood Life - 12/01/2000
"...[A] remarkable achievement..."
Premiere - 01/01/2001
"...Very funny [moments]. O BROTHER is replete with such stuff..."
Los Angeles Times - 12/22/2000
"...O BROTHER is rife with the kinds of genial madness only writer-director Joel and writer-producer Ethan can come up with....By enlivening things to an unprecedented extent, the songs turn O BROTHER into perhaps the warmest production in the Coens' repertoire..."
Joel and Ethan Coen transport Homer's ODYSSEY to the depression-era South in the silly, fun comedy O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU' George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson star as three escaped fugitives on the run in Mississippi. Their adventures through the barren landscape includes run-ins with a soothsayer, a trio of Sirens, a Bible-salesman Cyclops, as well as other archetypes from Southern folklore and pop-culture including a young blues musician, the Klan, and bank robber Baby Face Nelson. Soon they are caught up in a vicious gubernatorial campaign that would make Huey Long proud.
The Coen brothers mix in a host of cinematic references in O BROTHER, including SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, COOL HAND LUKE, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, and even dashes of the Three Stooges. The soundtrack of folk ballads, yodeling traditionals, Delta blues, and prison work songs is outstanding, playing in the background (or foreground) of nearly every scene. Clooney, as the ringleader, displays an effervescent smile that is as intoxicating as the Coens' script is outrageous. The cast, including Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, John Goodman, Chris Thomas King, and Michael Badalucco, is charmingly bewildering in a way that only a Coen brothers' cast can be. Joel and Ethan have done it again, crafting this time a unique film steeped in the traditions of the South--and of Hollywood itself.
Description by Buena Vista Home Entertainment.:
O Brother, Where Art Thou'
Disenchanted with the daily drudge of crushing rocks on a prison farm in Mississippi, the dapper, silver-tongued Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney, THE PERFECT STORM) busts loose. Except he's still shackled to his own chain-mates from the chain gang -- bad-tempered Pete (John Turturro, SUMMER OF SAM), and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson, HAMLET). With nothing to lose and buried loot to regain -- before it's lost forever in a flood -- the three embark on the adventure of a lifetime in this hilarious offbeat road picture. Populated with strange characters, including a blind prophet, sexy sirens, and a one-eyed Bible salesman (John Goodman, COYOTE UGLY), it's an odyssey filled with chases, close calls, near misses, and betrayal that will leave you laughing at every outrageous and surprising twist and turn.
Theatrical release: December 22, 2000 (limited); January 12, 2001 (nationwide).
Filmed on location in Mississippi.
Estimated budget: more than $30 million.
George Clooney was going to sing two songs for the film, "Man of Constant Sorrow" and "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby," but it turned out that he was rather awful, so he ended up lip-synching the songs instead. He said, "I'm not my aunt [Rosemary Clooney]. I decided it would be easier to just do a passionate lip-sync." He was so nervous that the tapes of his singing would get out that he returned to the studio to make sure all the evidence had been erased. Music supervisor T Bone Burnett was more generous in saying, "First of all, he is a very good singer. What happened with George is that style of music is very difficult and one almost has to grow up singing it in order to sing it convincingly. George did a really good version of the tune but it wasn't as good as he wanted."
Although the film is loosely drawn from Homer's ODYSSEY, neither of the Coen brothers have read the book, nor has George Clooney. "We got the Classics Comics version," Ethan said. Actor Chris Thomas King, who plays Tommy Johnson, said, "I hate to admit it, but I did read it. And I read all of it--I had to see how it ends up."
The title of the film comes from the name of the movie that comedy director Joel McCrea wants to make in Preston Sturges's wonderful SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS.
The premiere party included performances by Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, and the Soggy Bottom Boys.
T Bone Burnett was a member of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and has put out some critically successful albums of his own, including PROOF THROUGH THE NIGHT.
John Goodman has also appeared in the Coen brothers' RAISING ARIZONA, BARTON FINK, and THE BIG LEBOWSKI; he provided a voice for THE HUDSUCKER PROXY.
John Turturro has also appeared in the Coen brothers' BARTON FINK, MILLER'S CROSSING, and THE BIG LEBOWSKI.
Charles Durning appeared as Waring Hudsucker in THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. Holly Hunter also starred in the Coen brothers' RAISING ARIZONA and contributed her voice to BLOOD SIMPLE.
Music has a strong presence in the film. "Music became a very prominent feature very early on in the writing, and it just became more so as we went along. There are very few scenes in the movie that don't have an onscreen musical element to them," Joel Coen said.
Tim Blake Nelson (Delmar) said, "One of the most enjoyable parts of this role has been that I got to sing. I just begged Joel and Ethan to give me the chance to do my own singing. They eventually became convinced and I ended up doing it in the movie."
The soundtrack (a compelling melange of southern, country, bluegrass, roots, and folk music) includes performances by Norman Blake, Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Sam Phillips, Gillian Welch, John Hartford, Emmylou Harris, the Fairfield Four, and the Soggy Bottom Boys, among others. The majority of the songs are traditional; one song was written (by T Bone Burnett) specifically for the film.
Editor Roderick Jaynes is a pseudonym for Joel and Ethan Coen.
Stephen Root, who plays the radio station manager at WEZY, played the radio station manager on the TV show NEWSRADIO.
The Tommy Johnson character is based on the legend of guitar man Robert Johnson, who supposedly sold his soul to the devil in return for being able to play the blues like no one ever had before.
Michael Badalucco (George "Babyface" Nelson") plays a notorious killer for a second time, having already played David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz in Spike Lee's SUMMER OF SAM.
Daniel Von Bargen (Cooley) plays the commandant on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.