The Coen Brothers: The best pair in Hollywood


By Chris Nelson

I love movies. With that comes a great appreciation for the directors, the men (and occasionally women) who bring a story to life through reels and cameras, so I’ve always debated which director is my personal favorite.

I could ponder all day over who’s the “greatest” director of all time, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal enjoyment. So who can I really rely on to consistently give me multiple, diverse experiences that tickle bits of my weird little brain?

I thought about it–Scorsese, Tarantino, Kubrick–I could gush about them all day, but when I really think about it, it’s not a director; it’s a pair. Two eccentric brothers from a little Jewish community outside Minneapolis, one named Joel, and the other named Ethan, but the entertainment industry will always recognize them as a single entity; the Coen Brothers.

The brothers have never truly failed to give me something worthwhile, a film that I can always re-watch over and over and always find something different to enjoy. My first experience with the brothers was around three years ago, when I stumbled upon their fourth Palme d’or winning film, “Barton Fink.” The setup seemed ordinary, even a little dull, a playwright turned screenwriter with writers block. “Whoop-dee freaking do,” I thought.

But the movie never seemed to run out of ways to keep itself interesting. The weirdness and eccentricity of everything, the characters, the set-pieces, the symbolism, it made the film almost a horror flick, but it always had this big fat grin behind it. Its humor was strange and at times, dark, but left any banner of pretension the film may have carried. I had heard of the pair before, but now I knew I had to get more.

And so I indulged, “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona,” “Millers Crossing,” “Fargo,” and more. All different, all weird, but all wonderfully unique and enjoyable. In seemingly all their movies, they seem to run around something botched; something valuable stolen, or a plan gone awry. All with a crazy ensemble characters attempting to deal with it.

But every film always breaks norms in a unique way. “Fargo,” for instance, revolves around a scheme to get some money through ransoms while the intrepid detective tries to stop them. But that’s too boring for the Coens, so they make the kidnappers an irritating Steve Buscemi and some psychopath that looks like Bo Pelini. Our intrepid hero? A pregnant bumpkin named Marge with a motherly demeanor. To top it off, they set it in the rustic Midwest where there’s always snow and everyone has an annoying accent.

Essentially, if one were to sum up any of their movies in a sentence, it wouldn’t seem terribly special; a couple kidnapped a baby to raise as their own; an LA slacker gets mixed up with some millionaire; a mob advisor switches sides occasionally; it’s standard fare, but the two always succeed in making the trip so much more, and always with that big fat grin behind it all, no pretensions included.

Granted, they’ve had missteps (every director has at least one) “The Hudsucker Proxy,” whilst still for the most part enjoyable, really comes off as a typical “style with no substance” deal, with the trademark eccentricity becoming more annoying than amusing. It didn’t help that the twist, and a pretty clever one, was ruined on the film’s poster. “Intolerable Cruelty,” was nothing special either, but only for one keen reason. They didn’t write any of it, so one can definitely interpret that as more of a compliment in a way. But for every misstep, there’s always dozens of other positive points I can make for one of there many, many films.

Joel and Ethan Coen and their library of wonderful movies can always be relied upon to deliver something creative, smart, and rewarding. Their most recent outing, “True Grit,” proved they’ve still have their creative juices pumping. And so I’ll continue to enjoy them, with a big fat grin.