Intolerable Cruelty

"Weak"

Intolerable Cruelty Review


Like a bride who marries a man with bad habits thinking she'll be able to change him, in "Intolerable Cruelty," the eccentric writing-directing brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have married themselves to someone else's original script and the union hasn't turned out as happy as they'd hoped.

Aspiring to the snappy banter and chemistry of a Howard Hawks comedy, the unconventional brains behind "Raising Arizona," "Fargo" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" cast George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones as L.A.'s slickest divorce lawyer and the indomitably alluring serial gold-digger who ironically sets his heart aquiver.

The brothers rewrote the screenplay with distinctively Coen quirks, like Clooney's menacing, 87-year-old prune of a senior partner, who spends his fish-eye-lensed scenes attached to a life-support machine in a forebodingly dark, wood-paneled office. But between the picture's high-gloss big-studio sheen (something the brothers aren't accustom to) and its sometimes pedestrian high-camp conventions, "Intolerable Cruelty" seems to have lost both the underlying savvy that gives Coen Brothers comedies their soul and the evenly matched gender rivalries that gave Hawks' romances their heart.

Clooney begins his role of uber-attorney Miles Massey playing the guy as a wily scoundrel who can dig up any dirt, who can turn any accusation around on the accuser and who has created the infamous, ironclad "Massey pre-nup" for rich clients who want to protect their assets going into a marriage. Yet when he meets slinky, sly, man-eater Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones) across the bargaining table while representing her philandering moneybags husband (Edward Herrmann) -- well, her first one, anyway -- Massey is soon so dumbstruck that when the film should be serving up witty, wicked verbal sparring, Marylin is instead playing him like a cheap fiddle -- while supposedly still falling in love. Massey seems to know what he's up against, but he never really rises to the occasion. So when, inevitably, the other shoe drops, matrimonially speaking, it does so with a disappointing thud.

This isn't to say that "Intolerable Cruelty" isn't fairly well saturated with good humor. Joel and Ethan Coen can squeeze a laugh out of something as silly as Clooney playing up his character's compulsively toothy smile. But even though the brothers rewrote the source material (by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, "Big Trouble" and "Life") and made it their own, the character development and story arc remain disappointingly uneven.

While Clooney is certainly a charming screen presence and has a talent for comedy, his Miles Massey is too screwball to be credible as a courtroom shark, yet too self-possessed to be credible as a fool for love, which makes the transition between the two extremes even harder to believe than the extremes themselves. And the fact that this character, and by extension the whole movie, isn't all that sharp makes it harder to shrug off some narrative liberties, like the pivotal symbolic notion that just the act of tearing up a prenuptial agreement makes it legally void -- or that Massey, who uses a loud-mouthed gumshoe (Cedric The Entertainer) to investigate all his legal opponents, wouldn't have gone digging for secrets about a romantic rival, a talkative Texas oil billionaire and major rube (Billy Bob Thornton) whom Marylin plans to fleece.

Zeta-Jones is deliciously desirable in her romantic deviousness, but Marylin's growing genuine feelings for Miles Massey feel like a footnote in the script, which ultimately leaves the actress without enough character to chew on and the stars without much more than surface chemistry between them.

Had Clooney and Zeta-Jones been blessed with more lively, head-butting, memorably quotable give-and-take, "Intolerable Cruelty" could have been a sublime romantic dark comedy. The movie certainly has its moments of inspired mirth -- "I could have you disbarred for that," coos Marylin after Massey makes a pass at her. "It was worth it," he replies with a Cheshire grin. But those moments are the exception rather than the rule.



Intolerable Cruelty

Facts and Figures

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Friday 10th October 2003

Box Office USA: $35.1M

Box Office Worldwide: $119.9M

Budget: $60M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: Mike Zoss Productions, Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment, Alphaville Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 135 Rotten: 45

IMDB: 6.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Miles Massey, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Marilyn Rexroth, as Rex Rexroth, as Donovan Donaly, as Freddy Bender, as Howard D. Doyle, as Bonnie Donaly, as Gus Petch, as Wrigley, as Sarah Sorkin, as Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy, Tom Aldredge as Herb Myerson, as Ollie Olerud, as Wheezy Joe, Judith Drake as Mrs. Gutman, George Ives as Mrs. Gutman's Lawyer

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Advertisement
Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.