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Intolerable Cruelty Review

By Shawn McKenzie 10/11/2003

Intolerable Cruelty is the first Coen Brothers movie that they have directed that wasnít written solely by them, but that doesnít make it a worse movie fortunately.  They team up once again with George Clooney to make one of the quirkiest comedies of the year.


Miles Massey (Clooney) is a divorce attorney in a prestigious Beverly Hills law firm.  He is the best divorce attorney in town, and the Massey Pre-nuptial Agreement, the most unbreakable legal contract ever, is named after him.  He is so good that he can win a seemingly un-winnable case, such as Bonnie Donalyís (Stacey Travis) case against her soap opera producer husband Donovan (Geoffrey Rush), who caught her cheating on him with a pool guy named Ollie Olerud (Jack Kyle.)  With his associate, Wrigley (Paul Adelstein), by his side, Miles is virtually unbeatable...but thatís the problem lately.  He has become bored with winning cases and has no one who can challenge him.  His latest case sparks his interest though.  He is representing real estate developer husband Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) against his wife Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who recently hired private eye Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer) to catch him in the middle of an affair with a young woman (Kristin Datillo.)  This actually makes her happy, because she can divorce him and live independently on the settlement money.  Her lawyer, Freddy Bender (Richard Jenkins), and her divorced best friend, Sarah Sorkin (Julia Duffy), who has experience in taking her own ex-husbands for lots of money, try to help Marylin get at least half of Rexís total worth.  Miles is calm through the whole proceeding, and then introduces a surprise client, Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy (Jonathan Hadary), into the divorce proceedings.  Heinz testifies that she was looking for a rich husband to bilk, so Marylin loses, ending up with nothing.  Even though she was his opponent in court, Miles finds himself attracted to her and fascinated by her methods for financial independence.  He wants to start seeing her socially, because he doesnít want to turn into an elderly workaholic like his boss, senior partner Herb Myerson (Tom Aldredge), and end up all alone.  He might be too late, because Marylin has already found a new future ex-husband in the form of oilman Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton.)  Milesí love for Marylin blinds his usual instincts, and matters get even more complicated when he is forced to employ a hitman, Wheezy Joe (Irwin Keyes), to take care of a little marital snag.


Iím glad I didnít know before I went to see the movie that the Coen Brothers had directed a movie off a screenplay written by the team behind the stupid 1995 movie Destiny Turns on the Radio, Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone (different guy from Matt Stone of ďSouth ParkĒ fame.)  It might have skewed my perception of the flick.  Even though the Coens had a minor hand in the writing, the directing is all theirs.  The movie takes place in modern times (proven by the usage of cell phones), but it feels like it came from the Ď50s.  It has that Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn screwball comedy feel to it.


It was quirky mainly in the over-the-top performances.  Everyone in the cast, except maybe Zeta-Jones, overacted on purpose, and it was fun to watch.  For some reason, Adelsteinís crying jags as a running joke didnít get old.  Hadary was hilarious in his brief performance as Heinz.  The little dog he carried into court with him was an added bonus.


If you were worried that Intolerable Cruelty would be a weak entry into the Coen Brothers resume, you shouldnít.  Though not as good as Raising Arizona or Fargo, it does rank up there with The Hudsucker Proxy or Barton Fink.  This may be Coen blasphemy, but I liked it better than Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?  Check it out yourself and see if you think it is safe for those Coen boys to direct other peopleís scripts.  Imagine them helming a movie written by Clerks scribe Kevin Smith!


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