> Volume 6 > Number 15


Ethan Coen
Joel Coen

Tom Hanks
Irma P. Hall
Marlon Wayans
J.K. Simmons
Tzi Ma
Ryan Hurst
Diane Delano

Release: 26 Mar. 04

The Ladykillers


However many successes they may churn out, life as the Coen brothers must be miserable. Hereís two guys who set the bar so high so often that their marginal films come as huge disappointments. The Ladykillers, their latest middle-ground film, isnít particularly bad, but it pales beside the majority of their works. Lucky for them, I suppose, is that two of their last three films werenít much better.

Which raises the question, why do they have to make a Fargo, a Blood Simple, or a Millerís Crossing every time? There are thousands of directors who have and will never make the equivalent of one of those masterpieces, and yet I catch myself getting into a tizzy when someone comments on the hilarity of O Brother, Where Art Thou? For that reason, I did something I hadnít done before O Brother or Intolerable Cruelty: I watched The Ladykillers as if it wasnít a Coen brothers film.

And it worked, to some extent. While the characterizations could only be considered in their style, the meandering plotting and clunky pacing seemed more acceptable when placed at the same level as Bronwen Hughes or Ron Howard. In fact, in the hands of someone else, Iíd be willing to celebrate some untapped humorist for creating some wonderfully dry jokes and dark stunts. Iíd call it the first film since Raising Arizona to fully reflect the giddiness of being inept, even if it never captures the heart and soul of struggling under these circumstances (empathy has been traded for full-fledged ridicule).

All the pieces fall into place by the end, which does coincide with the preexisting trajectory of the Ealing production itís remaking, but never quite feels fresh enough to overcome that braggart feeling as they systematically follow through on every possible story arc and twist. These are veterans who, perhaps unfortunately, know exactly what to do at every turn. That they almost get away with it, though, is proof of the artists still waiting for their next The Man Who Wasnít There.

[Postscript: This is the first film in which both brothers, Ethan and Joel, receive directorial credit. Before The Ladykillers, Ethan has been producer and Joel has been director, with shared credit for writing and editing (under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes). I donít fully understand the reason for the change (perhaps the Cannes win two years ago), but I do welcome Ethan to the Best Director Oscar competition the next time their artistic juices start flowing completely again.]

©2004, David Perry,, 9 April 2004