Intolerable Cruelty full movie review - Just about intolerable
The Coen brothers have always been something of an acquired taste. Their comedies never feel like conventional comedies and their dramas always have an indiscernible quirk to them that is hard to pinpoint.
It would appear their forte is more cult comedies with the popularity of their films The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona. I only fuel this statement by the evidence that their film Intolerable Cruelty is an under-nourishing exercise in dramatic filmmaking that features great screen presences chewing scenery and taking in the luxurious set designs they've been placed in.
Miles Massey (George Clooney) is a top divorce attorney who agrees to take Rex Rexroth's (Edward Herrmann) case, which involves him cheating on his wife Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Marylin married Rex solely for his wealth and financial stability, so her plan is obviously to take him for all he's worth in this case. However, she is informed that Miles is an amazing attorney who is greatly feared in the field. When she winds up losing her case, she makes Miles as smitten as she possibly can with her smile, curvaceous body, and audacious beauty so that she can do the same for him. But Miles is smarter to fall for that, isn't he? The twist that is employed within the storyline of Intolerable Cruelty is that those who hold the notion t-hey are smart are the dumbest when put on the spot. And yet, this is a facile justification/moral for this kind of a story. The toneless monotony of the film further obscures this notion. It's difficult to recall a more boring, uninteresting setup that pairs some of the most likable actors of this generation.
George Clooney is one the most attractive and likable leading men in cinema as we know it. He has a smile that has the warmth and depth of not an actor but a top executive or outgoing business man. Catherine Zeta-Jones basks in this same sort of charisma and charm in her acting chops and creates the brewing sense of lust and attraction in her male followers much like Clooney does in his female ones. These two are an incredible screen duo criminally underutilized in this formula. Underutilized in the sense that they are given a story with no direction or particular genre in mind.
The talent here feels submissive to the mediocrity of the Coen brothers' screenplay, which has something of a tonal crisis. The Coens struggle through discovering whether black comedy, screwball comedy, or courtroom drama is the proper way to carry out this story. What we get is a marginally convincing, lukewarm hybrid between several genres we know the Coens can make fun and in-depth but for some reason do not in this case.
Some films are good for reasons that are not elaborate or as deep as others. The same goes for lesser films or simply bad ones. Intolerable Cruelty suffers from the fact that the material isn't that interesting, the characters are stuffy and vanilla, and the directions taken by the Coens do nothing but make a relatively unengaging, forgettable picture.
Perhaps you're a big fan of the brothers Coen and you enjoy this film. Before settling on the idea that the performances are good and the humor is wry and funny, justify your favorable reactions towards it. Think if the Coens had been opted out for a random, aspiring filmmaker and the actors taken several steps down from Clooney and Zeta-Jones to indie-stars like Kentucker Audley and Lake Bell, would your reaction still be as strong?
Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Edward Herrmann. Directed by: Joel Coen.