The Ladykillers


Directed by: Ethan & Joel Coen
Written by:Ethan & Joel Coen
Starring: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst
Released: August 19, 2004
Grade: B+

In a quiet Southern American town, Marva Munson (Hall) is an opinionated woman who regularly attends church and lives her life by the good book.  Her husband passed away many years ago but she remembers him fondly by talking to large painting of the man which rests atop the fireplace.  Her latest gripe has her complaining to the Sheriff about a neighbour playing their hip-hop music too loud.  She’s talking about “songs with the titles spelt all funny.”

There’s a knock at the door and introducing himself is Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Hanks).  There was a sign in the home’s front yard advertising a room to let and Dorr would like to accept the offer.  Miss Munson’s only stipulation is that she is looking for a quiet tenant.  Dorr will humbly oblige but informs her that he is a member of a gospel band and wondered if she had a wood cellar in which they could rehearse.  The answer is yes and on discovering this, Dorr mutters to himself “this looks promising”.

You see, there’s more to Professor Dorr than his impeccable manners and eloquent dialogue suggests.  His “band” doesn’t know the first thing about music.  They plan on using the Miss Munson’s cellar for something far more interesting, and far more profitable…

Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are exceptional filmmakers.  Anyone who knows me will often hear me raving and recommending my favourite of their many films, Fargo, which was released back in 1996 and won two Academy Awards.  Others Coen films I have admired include The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty.  They are two of the most original screenwriters of the modern era which is why it comes as a surprise to see them making this picture.  You see, this is not an original idea.  It is a remake of a 1955 film of the same title starring Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker and Peter Sellers.

The 2004 version of The Ladykillers begins slowly and perhaps too much time is spent on the introductions of both Miss Munson and Professor Dorr.  Still, you can’t help but laugh at some of Dorr’s ridiculous one-liners.  I’m not convinced Hanks is the right man in this role but Irma P. Hall is certainly the woman to play Miss Munson.  When the film premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the jury (led by Quentin Tarantino) awarded Hall a special prize for her performance.  She so brutally forthwith in her responses and her stubbornness will remind many of their own grandmothers.

If you can remain content throughout the opening half, you’ll enjoy the final payoff in the closing half.  The film steps up a notch and the inventive quirkiness of the Coen brothers shines through again.  It’s not their best film, but enjoyable nevertheless.