Intolerable Cruelty

"Weak"

Intolerable Cruelty Review


Like a bride who marries a man with bad habits thinking she'll be able to change him, in "Intolerable Cruelty," the eccentric writing-directing brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have married themselves to someone else's original script and the union hasn't turned out as happy as they'd hoped.

Aspiring to the snappy banter and chemistry of a Howard Hawks comedy, the unconventional brains behind "Raising Arizona," "Fargo" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" cast George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones as L.A.'s slickest divorce lawyer and the indomitably alluring serial gold-digger who ironically sets his heart aquiver.

The brothers rewrote the screenplay with distinctively Coen quirks, like Clooney's menacing, 87-year-old prune of a senior partner, who spends his fish-eye-lensed scenes attached to a life-support machine in a forebodingly dark, wood-paneled office. But between the picture's high-gloss big-studio sheen (something the brothers aren't accustom to) and its sometimes pedestrian high-camp conventions, "Intolerable Cruelty" seems to have lost both the underlying savvy that gives Coen Brothers comedies their soul and the evenly matched gender rivalries that gave Hawks' romances their heart.

Clooney begins his role of uber-attorney Miles Massey playing the guy as a wily scoundrel who can dig up any dirt, who can turn any accusation around on the accuser and who has created the infamous, ironclad "Massey pre-nup" for rich clients who want to protect their assets going into a marriage. Yet when he meets slinky, sly, man-eater Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) across the bargaining table while representing her philandering moneybags husband (Edward Herrmann) -- well, her first one, anyway -- Massey is soon so dumbstruck that when the film should be serving up witty, wicked verbal sparring, Marylin is instead playing him like a cheap fiddle -- while supposedly still falling in love. Massey seems to know what he's up against, but he never really rises to the occasion. So when, inevitably, the other shoe drops, matrimonially speaking, it does so with a disappointing thud.

This isn't to say that "Intolerable Cruelty" isn't fairly well saturated with good humor. Joel and Ethan Coen can squeeze a laugh out of something as silly as Clooney playing up his character's compulsively toothy smile. But even though the brothers rewrote the source material (by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, "Big Trouble" and "Life") and made it their own, the character development and story arc remain disappointingly uneven.

While Clooney is certainly a charming screen presence and has a talent for comedy, his Miles Massey is too screwball to be credible as a courtroom shark, yet too self-possessed to be credible as a fool for love, which makes the transition between the two extremes even harder to believe than the extremes themselves. And the fact that this character, and by extension the whole movie, isn't all that sharp makes it harder to shrug off some narrative liberties, like the pivotal symbolic notion that just the act of tearing up a prenuptial agreement makes it legally void -- or that Massey, who uses a loud-mouthed gumshoe (Cedric The Entertainer) to investigate all his legal opponents, wouldn't have gone digging for secrets about a romantic rival, a talkative Texas oil billionaire and major rube (Billy Bob Thornton) whom Marylin plans to fleece.

Zeta-Jones is deliciously desirable in her romantic deviousness, but Marylin's growing genuine feelings for Miles Massey feel like a footnote in the script, which ultimately leaves the actress without enough character to chew on and the stars without much more than surface chemistry between them.

Had Clooney and Zeta-Jones been blessed with more lively, head-butting, memorably quotable give-and-take, "Intolerable Cruelty" could have been a sublime romantic dark comedy. The movie certainly has its moments of inspired mirth -- "I could have you disbarred for that," coos Marylin after Massey makes a pass at her. "It was worth it," he replies with a Cheshire grin. But those moments are the exception rather than the rule.



Intolerable Cruelty

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 10th October 2003

Box Office USA: $35.1M

Box Office Worldwide: $119.9M

Budget: $60M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Mike Zoss Productions, Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Alphaville Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 135 Rotten: 45

IMDB: 6.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Miles Massey, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Marilyn Rexroth, as Rex Rexroth, as Donovan Donaly, as Freddy Bender, as Howard D. Doyle, as Bonnie Donaly, as Gus Petch, as Wrigley, as Sarah Sorkin, as Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy, Tom Aldredge as Herb Myerson, as Ollie Olerud, as Wheezy Joe, Judith Drake as Mrs. Gutman, George Ives as Mrs. Gutman's Lawyer

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.