The Coen Brother's Movie Collection Joel Coen

Sure to make any completist cringe slightly at the fact that it includes the Coen’s first four films (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing and Barton Fink) but skips one of their best (Fargo), The Coen Brother’s Movie Collection is an odd compilation. While nothing new has been added to these DVDs in comparison to previous releases, some things have been taken away — the version of Blood Simple included is just the movie. Marketing decisions aside, this collection is odd simply due to the eccentric whims of these two brothers, who write together and split the production credits (Joel is the credited director and Ethan the producer). Their films often start out of the gate as genre pieces only to twist on their heals to tell stories nearly in opposition to your expectations. On Fargo’s extras, Ethan muses, "As far as we’re concerned, we’re interested in doing something different from what we’ve done before, just to keep life interesting for ourselves. So, to the extent that the movies have anything in common, we’re not aware of it. We try to avoid it, in fact.” The films in this compilation reinforce this sentiment. A Hitchcock-ian thriller, Blood Simple’s plot spins out of control due to the pivotal lack of knowledge each character has about one another, ending in a paranoid, bloody mess. Raising Arizona could be a ’40s a screwball comedy if it weren’t wrestling with a darker criminal side. Loyalty and betrayal are common themes to the gangster genre but Miller’s Crossing layers the double crosses to the point where the audience’s expectations of motive are crossed. Barton Fink is an ode to, a lament and a critique of the artistic process, commercialisation and arrogance that just happens to include a serial killer as the protagonist’s friend and foil. Academy Award winning best picture Fargo is a quirky crime drama where the seemingly most fragile of lead characters turns out to be most competent and toughest. This collection demonstrates how the brother’s have progressed — each movie features a more realised world than the last for their characters to inhabit. Their language, both in script and visual cinema, becomes increasingly more complex with each flick. There are a few things to critique about each one however, like Blood Simple’s cheesy, dated soundtrack, or how Miller’s Crossing is such a lean piece of writing that it could use a bit of fat to let the viewer chew a bit more on its protagonists. Yet it would be fair to say that these films are so capably made, with ambitions so far beyond that of 98 percent of other American films, that they are all great. Most intriguingly, this collection reveals one common thread, in contradiction to Ethan’s comment, and it’s that nearly every one of the Coen’s characters in this box is presented with their humanity intact. They are all viewed with empathy and none appear one-sided (okay, except the villain in Raising Arizona — he’s pure evil). William H. Macy completely nails it in the "Minnesota Nice” feturette on Fargo. Although he was talking about that film his thoughts sum up what unifies this collection: that these Coen brothers films are "a gentle touch on a vicious story.” (MGM)