<< Front page Arts April 9, 2004

Ladykillers is yet another hit for the Coen brothers

Tom Hanks to join Con faculty: Just kidding. But he does play the violin both in real life and the movie The Ladykillers, which opens at The Apollo this weekend.

After the painfully disappointing misfire that was last October’s Intolerable Cruelty, the Coen brothers return in fine form with their remake of the 1955 Alec Guiness/Peter Sellers film The Ladykillers. The plot of a group of thieves posing as a musical band in an old woman’s house and their killing of the old woman when she finds out their real identities remains the same, but that’s where the similarity ends. Whereas the original film focused more on the difficulty in eliminating the old woman, the Coens take time in developing the quirks of their characters and the preparation for the heist before they start in on the dark humor they do so well, and begin the attempts to kill old Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall).

The five criminals in this flick consist of mastermind Professor G.H. Dore (Tom Hanks), tunneling expert the General (Tzi Ma), demolitions expert Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), slow-witted muscle Lump (Ryan Hurst) and inside man Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans). These types of characters make the Coen films special. These five characters, especially Dore and Pancake, deserve to go right alongside such Coen brothers all-stars as the Dude, Walter, Marge, Ulysses Everett McGill and so many others. All of the actors in this film are fantastic in their own right, but Hanks and Simmons really stand out. The team-up of Hanks with the Coen brothers works perfectly. Dore isn’t an evil man, but he’s incredibly verbose. Hanks plays the wordy professor with such enthusiasm and glee that it makes you wish that he still did more comedies. Simmons also does a remarkable job as the bass-voiced Pancake.

The Ladykillers shares the dark humor, hyper-real, and oddball characters featured in most of their films, but it shares most in common with 2001’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? Both films dwell in an American South out of time. Although the film takes place in the present day, everything seems rustic, from the sherrif’s office to the church and Dore’s Colonel Sanders-inspired wardrobe. And also like O Brother, The Ladykillers has a great soundtrack put together by T-Bone Burnett. While O Brother was dubbed with bluegrass, The Ladykillers is all about gospel and it’s one of those soundtracks definitely worthy of going into a collection.

The Coen brothers are two of the most creative, interesting filmmakers working today. Thankfully, Intolerable Cruelty wasn’t a sign of decline for these two and rather just a misstep. With The Ladykillers, the Coens tap back into what makes them unique: creating a film that’s fun, quotable, dark and quirky, with a great look and sound. It’s a Coen brothers film, and anyone who has seen their previous efforts knows that their name is synonymous with quality.


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