Published Oct 01, 2003There's going to be a lot of comparisons to classic Hollywood romantic comedies when people discuss the chemistry of the two leads involved in Intolerable Cruelty. Based on the despicable lifestyles of the rich and famous, this film has hints of an over-the-top production from 60 years ago, but mixed in with cleverer dialogue and the quirky black comedy we expect from the Coen brothers.
Miles Massey (George Clooney) is the heavyweight champion of Beverly Hills divorce settlements, who never loses a case and manages to make anyone in the wrong come across as the victim. In the opening scene we witness Massey work his magic and assist a cheating wife in cleaning out her wealthy husband's bank account, leaving him homeless. With a perfect record under his belt, Massey is absolutely fascinated when he crosses paths with a challenge, in the form of she-devil Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has made a career out of destroying rich men through marriages. The two battle for supremacy, both looking to one-up the other through a series of devious tactics in and out of the courtroom while slowly falling in love with their equally balanced amounts of cruelty.
Clooney is undeniably the star of this film. Playing a similar character to that of Ulysses in O Brother, he is absolutely captivating to watch on screen. The smallest facial expressions are absolutely priceless, usually coming from slight ticks of obsession while engaging in verbal wars with Rexroth. The Coen's have given Clooney a platform to display his comedic talent and this picture has benefited immensely, allowing the actor to take centre stage. Catherine Zeta-Jones is also superb and has never looked more radiant as the gold-digging temptress out to destroy as many men's careers as it takes in order to be independent once and for all. The way Clooney and Zeta-Jones bicker throughout the film is captivating, as you never really know if either are speaking from the heart or through the wallet.
Intolerable Cruelty is not the Coen's best piece of cinematic work however, but that's in comparison to their past work, which ranks as some of the greatest films in modern motion picture history. The presentation here is as slick as Hollywood itself, with loads of colourful backdrops and extremely animated characters, comparable to the style of acting in The Hudsucker Proxy. As one would expect from the Coens, there are a wide array of strong supporting characters, including a small but entertaining stint with Billy Bob Thornton as an oil tycoon and Cedric The Entertainer as an investigator who makes it quite clear he will "nail your ass."
The film does however lack those certain indefinable qualities that suck you into a Coen brothers film, and the cinematography, though done with their go-to man Roger Deakins, isn't as captivating as past projects. Intolerable Cruelty is more direct and straightforward, with constant dialogue and on-screen action, creating a very high-paced film that will keep the typical movie-goer interested, but in turn sacrifices moments of intimacy. Still, there's no such thing as a bad Coen brothers film, and even when they don't hit it out of the park they're certainly out-doing the majority of other films, maintaining their legendary status in the process. (Imagine/Universal)