Only Joel and Ethan Coen, masters of quirky and ultra-stylish genre subversion, would dare nick the plotline of Homer's Odyssey
for O Brother, Where Art Thou?
, their comic picaresque saga about three cons on the run in 1930s Mississippi. Our wandering hero in this case is one Ulysses Everett McGill, a slick-tongued wise guy with a thing for hair pomade (George Clooney, blithely sending up his own dapper image) who talks his chain-gang buddies (Coen-movie regular John Turturro and newcomer Tim Blake Nelson) to light out after some buried loot he claims to know of. En route they come up against a prophetic blind man on a railroad truck, a burly one-eyed baddie (the ever-magnificent John Goodman), a trio of sexy singing ladies, a blues guitarist who's sold his soul to the devil, a brace of crooked politicos on the stump, a manic-depressive bank robber, and--well, you get the idea. Into this, their most relaxed film yet, the Coens have tossed a beguiling ragbag of inconsequential situations, a wealth of looping, left-field dialogue and a whole stash of gags both verbal and visual. O Brother
(the title's lifted from Preston Sturges' classic 1941 comedy Sullivan's Travels
) is furthermore graced with glowing, burnished photography from Roger Deakins and a masterly soundtrack from T-Bone Burnett that pays loving homage to American 30s folk-styles: blues, gospel, bluegrass, jazz and more. And just to prove that the brothers haven't lost their knack for bad-taste humour, we get a Ku Klux Klan rally choreographed like something between a Nuremberg rally and a Busby Berkeley musical. --Philip Kemp
On the DVD: This two-disc set duplicates the original single-disc release of the film which included a handful of cast and crew interviews, and adds an additional disc with more interviews, two brief behind-the-scenes featurettes about the production design and the post-production digital colouring of the film, a couple of storyboard-to-scene comparisons and a music video of "Man of Constant Sorrow". There's also a 16-minute documentary to promote the companion Down from the Mountain concert. Frankly there's not a lot here to justify spreading it across two discs: a more pleasing not to say generous offering would have been to cram all these extras onto Disc 1 and give us Down from the Mountain as the second disc. --Mark Walker
Clooney/Turturro/Blake ~ O Brother Where Art Thou?