Intolerable Cruelty (2003)

Divorce isn’t all about breaking the others person’s heart, it’s mostly about breaking their bank accounts.

A fabulously successful Los Angeles divorce attorney, Miles Massey (George Clooney) who is so sated on success, that he doesn’t quite see enough time for recreational activities like hanging out with friends, going to the bar, getting laid, or hell, even finding his one true, and only love. He doesn’t care much for that stuff anyway, but if it ever came around his way, then so be it, but just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of his business and his path-to-success. Now though, Miles may get exactly what he wants in the form the much-divorced Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a hard-headed woman pursuing financial independence through serial matrimony, except it may come with a price. That price? His heart, which as we all know, when one is placed solely in the firm grasps of a woman, nothing good can ever come of it. Poor guy.

The writing/directing brother duo known as the Coen Brothers, are pretty much known for wacky, twisty dark comedies, that feature plenty of weirdness and violence to go along with their final-product. You know this, I know this, hell, we all know this! However, what we don’t really know about them all that much are their passions for anything even remotely close to “rom-coms”. But here we have a rom-com, featuring two of the sexiest, most vivacious stars of the past ten years, and we have the Coen Brothers leading them. Sounds strange, doesn’t it?

Men, hate to say it, but another good one bites the dust.
Men, hate to say it, but another good one bites the dust.

That’s because it is. But it’s “Coen Brothers strange” and yes, there is such a thing.

The are in which I think the Coens get most of a bad-rap from this movie in is that it’s pretty obvious what they’re setting out to do here, and that’s to make a mainstream rom-com, obviously with their own little stamps of originality here and there to spice things up. They aren’t necessarily trying to spellbind an audience that may not know what to expect from their types of movies, nor are they trying to piss off their most loyal, nearest and dearest fans neither; they’re simply trying to make a movie that can be somewhat be enjoyed by anybody who cares enough to give this one a shot. And while the end-result may not be all that perfect, there’s still plenty of interesting stuff going on here that makes it easy to understand why no matter what type of stunt they’re trying to pull, a Coen Brothers movie is always worth watching. For one reason or another.

For instance, take the premise: It’s fairly dark in the way it looks at the world of love, lust and money, and how it’s all connected in a terrible web of lies and deceit. Not the happiest, most pleasant premise out there to-date, but it’s what you get from the dudes who put a dead dude in a wood-chipper. The Coens seem like they have a lot to discuss when it comes to the discussion of how money just makes people happy, regardless of if they’re in love or not. Usually, money solves everything, not love. Hate to say it, but for some peeps, that’s nothing other than the truth, and to see the Coens tap into this idea, while also springing-up some fun, twisty and surprising plot-points, made this a better watch then I expected.

However, it cannot be argued that this movie is still a bit messy, all due to the fact that it’s a rom-com, trying so hard to be in fact, a rom-com. It’s not that I took points off because the Coen Brothers were trying something new and inventive with something we’ve seen done a hundred, million times (hell, it’s practically what we see their movies for in the first place), it’s just that the transition from this strange, sort-of love story, to the mysterious, cold and dark story that Clooney’s character gets wrapped up into, isn’t as smooth. Once again, it seemed like the Coens may have had a bit too much on their plate to chew on, but this time, instead of having all these different strands of plot, story and development going on, it’s just two stories and they never quite converge the way they should.

Like I said before though, it is a Coen Brothers movie, and for what that’s worth, there’s still plenty of non-stop chuckles, pieces of dry wit and overall fun to be had here, it’s just obvious that these guys have done far-better stuff before. Especially with premises that didn’t at all resemble a silly, stupid rom-com. Seriously, I hate those damn things! Hate ’em!

Somebody grab me a damn fan!
Somebody grab me a damn fan!

George Clooney plays the same role here, that he plays in every other one of his movies: The fast-talking, slick, charming guy that makes every other slouch in the room, look like they just got out of the freakin’ dumpster. But, even though that’s what he may seem like at first, you’ll be a bit surprised to see that he’s a lot more stranger-developments going on with this guy, that make you see him for a bit of a different cat altogether. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Miles Massey, in his own way, is a bit off-kilter and neurotic, something we don’t usually see Clooney play, especially given the fact that the ladies couldn’t ever imagine him as being something other than the most handsome, most charming dude in the world. Heck, I don’t blame them, because I even freakin’ see it! But watching Clooney try something new, is one thing, and it’s another to actually see him pull it off, which he does so effortlessly. You really do begin to feel something for this Miles Massey guy and even though he majors in taking the wounded’s good-earned money in every cheap, dirty way he can, there’s still a part of you that wants him to find that dream girl of his. Even if she is somebody as devilish and vindictive as Marylin Rexroth. Ooh, that name. Just gets me all hot, bothered and scared, everytime I hear it.

And with Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role, it’s easy to see why. No seriously, “seeing” is exactly what you’ll be doing everytime she’s up on-screen because she just nails that perfect eye-candy a movie like this needed. Therefore, when Massey started to fall for her, it was easy to see why, especially since every other dude around her started to fall weak at the knees as well. Yeah, a side of me wishes that there was more to this Rexroth character other than just an untrustworthy, gold-digging tramp, whom you don’t want to be messing around with Massey’s vulnerable heart, but I still can’t find anything bad to say about the gal’s performance. She’s spicy, nasty and willing to get down and dirty if she needs to make herself happy. In other words: She’s the type of girl all us men are afraid to be with, yet, we just can’t say “no” to. Rawr.

Consensus: Take with it what you will, Intolerable Cruelty is probably the Coen Brother’s most mainstream movie they have ever done, but still shows all of their usual trademarks for what they are, while also giving us some fun turns by the whole cast, especially a very charming and likable duo of Clooney and Zeta-Jones.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Something tells me the over-abundance of red means something despicable is about to happen. Just a hunch.
Something tells me the over-abundance of red means something despicable is about to happen. Just a hunch.

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  1. It’s a good film but not one of their best. Especially since the script wasn’t originated by the Coen Brothers as it was written by other people and the Coens decided to do more work into it to fit in towards their own sensibilities.

  2. Nice review! I haven’t seen this in ages. Seriously, it’s been almost ten years. I remember not loving it, but I was also quite possibly too young too appreciate it. Then again, the Coen Brothers aren’t always my cup of tea…Maybe I’ll give it another try.

  3. I normally can’t stand rom-com’s but this is an absolute treat from the Coen’s. I was genuinely chuckling my through it and Clooney is on fabulous form. Nice one Dan!

  4. Another Coen’s film I haven’t seen for years, so can’t remember a whole lot about it. I think I need to do a complete Coens re-evaluation like you are doing Dan.

  5. I LOVE this film. It was my favourite for years as a kid (I was 8 when it came out) and though I haven’t seen it for a few years, I still know I love it, though. I didn’t know it was Coens’, though, back then I remembered the name was something like “Intorbal Curly” and the only actors’ names I knew where Zeta-Jones and Nic Cage. 😀 I really agree with it having plenty of chuckles and dry wit. If all rom-coms were like this, I think I’d actually stuck with watching them after turning 12. 😀

  6. Something weird, this is a movie that I’ve started to watch numerous times and have probably seen the whole thing. But I’ve never watched it all in one sitting. Not sure what’s up with that. Anyway, solid review.

  7. Dan, I think you hit the nail on the head with the mixed reactions from many to this movie. To me, it’s a commercial film on the surface, but it has so much odd behavior that it doesn’t really work in that realm. It’s too generic to rank among the Coens’ best for their fans, but too goofy to become a mainstream hit. I had a lot of fun with this film and liked it more than I expected. The rapid-fire dialogue reminds me of ’30s screwball comedies, and the actors are good enough to pull it off.

  8. Rom-Com? 😛 this movie’s hardly romantic and hardly comical. It’s kinda odd, though. Even after seeing a few Coen brothers movies (“Burn after reading” and “Fargo” I liked quite a bit). Personally I’m not a fan of the way this movie was shot, too little lighting in some places and too much yellow in others. To me, this movie looks very yellow. The comical moments are rarely ha-ha funny, but good when you have to think about them. Kinda like another movie of Clooney’s “Up in the Air,” but the laughs are more obvious there. The one highlight I came way from this movie with this quote at a wedding reception where the dude’s trying to sell Clooney on berry spoons… mainly because a DVD extra had them run that line over 30 times. “But everybody eats berries”… one of many strange things I find hilarious in movies.

  9. I haven’t seen this but yeah, it seems obvious even from the trailer that George Clooney plays the same role that he plays in every other one of his movies.

  10. Great, great review! I love this film – it’s one of those movies I adore that so many seem to hate. Awesome that you wrote so many things about Clooney in this film – I completely agree, very fresh role for him to play and he was excellent.

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