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George Clooney
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Joel Coen.
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Intolerable Cruelty
Screwball comedy from the Coen brothers

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Miles Massey, a successful LA divorce lawyer, first meets gold-digger Marilyn Rexroth when he is hired by her millionaire husband to crush her crippling divorce suit. Though sparks fly, Massey trounces her in court. But that's not the last he will see of the one-woman bank account hoover...

Although the Coen brothers have a solid gold critical reputation and an equally adoring fanbase, they've never quite been able to grab the brass ring with a balls-out box-office hit that plays outside their catchment area - until now.

Unabashedly commercial, crowd-tickling stuff, this dazzling screwball comedy - following proudly in the footsteps of Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder - stars George Clooney at his most charming and Catherine Zeta-Jones doing what she does best (however little that is) in an immediately accessible story about avarice, divorce and love, in that order. Tight as a drum, glamorous and exquisitely funny, this one should earn them enough cash to make five more offbeat minor masterpieces like The Man Who Wasn't There - and the Coens deserve that as much as we do.

While the leads are every bit as charismatic as you'd expect, with Clooney on 'Dapper Dan Man' form as the Cary Grant-esque Massey and Zeta-Jones showing an admirable facility for old-school quickfire patter, the movie is peppered in typical Coen style with top-notch turns from character actors (Billy Bob Thornton, Geoffrey Rush) and cameos from striking bit-part players with freakish physiognomies.

Think about the "funny lookin'" scene from Fargo and multiply it to the nth degree: there's a surly blue-collar waitress who bristles at a snooty request for a green salad ("What other fuckin' colour is it gonna be?"), an asthmatic gangster called Wheezy Joe and an effeminate, poodle-carrying baron whose courtroom testimony must surely be one of the funniest scenes committed to film. Ever.

In fact, there's so much musicality in the lightning-quick dialogue, you'd almost think you were watching a song-and-dance number from the golden age of MGM. Key to the action is shady private eye Gus Petch (played by the improbably named Cedric The Entertainer), whose catchphrase "I'm gonna nail yo' ass" runs through the film like a leitmotif and finally provides the payoff.

And, like a musical, the film counterpoints major notes with subtle tones, providing broad laughs with its almost slapstick routines, while at the same time satirising the modern concept of love and the horrible commercialisation of the marriage industry - from the garish kitsch of a Vegas wedding chapel to the mercenary combat of the divorce court.

For longstanding Coen fans, the only disappointment might be that it's not as visually flashy as we're used to, but one suspects this was a noble sacrifice to avoid frightening off mainstream viewers. But watching this film, and seeing such a superb script brought to life, one can only wonder why no other star-driven romcoms made today - pay attention, Jim Carrey - are so finely-tuned, smart, sophisticated and memorable.

If the masses don't take to this, there's no hope for any of us. After all, how can you not love a movie that has a lawyer objecting on the grounds of "poetry recitation", a wealthy fish trader who's so powerful he is tuna, or that features a magazine called Living Without Intestines?

The Coens' first mainstream romantic comedy is a superb hijacking of an ailing art form - short, sharp and frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious. Zeta-Jones shines in a tailor-made role, but this is mostly a wonderful vehicle for Clooney, framing his matinee-idol looks but playing to his sublime comic timing.

Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Average user rating for Intolerable Cruelty
Empire Star Rating

Clooney's always good...

George Clooney is the king of cool and as such it can be easy to forget that he is also a very talented comedic actor. This is a facet that the Coen Brothers haven’t missed as they cast him as a cynical divorce lawyer in this typically off-beat Coen comedy. The Coen’s are an acquired taste with their brand of comedy often leaving the masses behind, but their tallents are clearly on display for all to see and this was no exception. I found the film funny, though not hilarious, but ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by neopol at 09:29, 03 June 2011 | Report This Post

Best screwball comedy in 30 years

No question. 5 stars indeed! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Teamwak at 17:21, 17 April 2011 | Report This Post

Classic Kooky Coen Comedy

Veering for the first time for a long time towards the mainstream, the Coens once again score and have realized a superb and genre bending romantic comedy to make the competition cower. Clooney and Zeta-Jones are brilliant in the lead roles, and the script is amusing, entertaining, and occasionally hilarious. The story is typical Coen fare, but this time, at the expense of a convoluted plot, and standard romcom cinematography. If you're a fan of the Coens or proper comedies in general, this is d... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 13:06, 26 March 2011 | Report This Post

Intolerable and unwatchable

Devoid of worth, this is by quite some distance the Coens worst film. With only the Ladykillers for company during the uncertain phase, this is utter, utter gash. They have thankfully redeemed themselves, but your simpleton reviewer shall not. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by credo753 at 11:25, 06 March 2011 | Report This Post


ok but fo r a coen bro film that is a big suprise! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by a123matt at 12:56, 22 February 2011 | Report This Post


tomorrow you'll be giving their remake of the ladykillers a 4 star ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Senton at 16:07, 04 February 2011 | Report This Post

Excellent scipt and wonderfully casted and acted...a nice variation to the Coen Cannon. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Samurai7 at 08:25, 28 December 2010 | Report This Post

The weakest of the Coens' work. Badly paced and with an average screenplay. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cinerator at 00:58, 16 March 2009 | Report This Post

The weakest of the Coens' work. Badly paced and with an average screenplay. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cinerator at 00:58, 16 March 2009 | Report This Post

Is this another five star review based on a director's previous glories? Probably. A big step backwards from the sophistication of The Man Who Wasn't There, and even a brow lower than most quality mainstream entertainment. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by wooz at 15:49, 16 March 2007 | Report This Post

Intolerable Crapiness! Can't I give negative stars

This film is one of the most awful, most intolerable films I have ever seen. My mouth was constantly wide with amazment at the humourless excuse for entertainment provided by this debacle, and I am STUNNED that anyone could give it 5 this a joke? On par with madonna's swept away and that is saying something! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nevermind at 22:57, 19 August 2006 | Report This Post

Certainly light fare for the Coens, this piece is nonetheless rewarding. Clooney and Catharine Zeta-Jones are electric together. And it's funny as hell. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mingusman at 16:13, 24 March 2006 | Report This Post

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