Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:40 - Released 10/10/03
If Joel and Ethan Coens Intolerable Cruelty had been produced by some unknown creative team, or one that had had only minor success in the past, it would probably be receiving much better praise. The mediocre reception with which this film is being met is not, I daresay, so much a result of its inferiority as that of the reputation the Coen brothers have built with such films as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou, and The Man Who Wasnt There. This is an unfortunate corollary of being successfulconsistent excellence is repaid with ever higher expectations. So, in light of this, we must accept that Intolerable Cruelty, written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano, and directed by Joel and Ethan (who also helped with the screenplay), a marriage-and-divorce-scam comedy starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, may not be up to the standards we have come to expect from the illustrious Coens, but it is certainly no failure. I thought the film was cleverly written and well-performed, and, if not a towering success like those listed, at least an enjoyable evenings entertainment.
George Clooney plays Miles Massey, an L.A. divorce attorney
who is so successful at his field, his self-named prenuptial agreement
(the Massey Prenup) is famous for its iron-clad security.
We learn of his technique in the courtroom when a beautiful and
extremely shrewd woman named Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) attempts
to sue her wealthy, eccentric, philandering husband Rex (Edward
Herrman) for everything hes worth. Thanks to Miles, she
gets nothing, but in the process he becomes intrigued with her.
You fascinate me, he admits when she appears some
time later with her newest wealthy fiancé, oil tycoon Howard
D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton). Seemingly undermining her own obvious
intentions, Marylin asks Miles to draw up a copy of the Massey
Prenup to protect Howard. Knowing her gold-digging ways, Miles
is confused as to why she would do such a thing, effectively preventing
the possibility of her ever profiting from her marriage to this
buffoon. But he soon understands, and his fascination with her
grows to financially unhealthy proportions.
Whatever complaints one may have about this movie, the casting
should definitely not be one of them. George Clooney and Catherine
Zeta-Jones are certainly not going to pull any muscles stretching
in these roles, as he has no lack of experience playing suave
scoundrels (Out Of Sight,
Oceans Eleven) and
she just won an Oscar last year for playing a conniving, husband-killing
sexpot in Chicago. So their
work here is nothing new for them, and they perform well together.
The chemistry is not spectacular, but its sufficient to
make us care how things come out. Notable supporting performances
include those of Thornton and Herrman, but also Paul Adelstein
as Miless overemotional assistant, Richard Jenkins as his
oft-beaten legal opponent, Geoffrey Rush as a cuckolded husband,
Cedric The Entertainer as a private detective who gets great enjoyment
out of his work, and Jonathan Hadary as a hilarious divorce court
Although I am often the first guy to berate directors for not living up to their previously established potential (check my review of any George Lucas movie), I can also understand that artists, like everybody else, have highs and lows in their professional output. I cant say I loved this movie like I loved O Brother, but watching Clooney and Zeta-Jones interact is suitably fun, and neither of them is exactly hard on the eyes. The supporting characters are funny in the way Coen bros. characters traditionally are, and the story is engaging enough to be considered tolerable. ****