Intolerable Cruelty


Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by:Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone
Starring: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric The Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Paul Adelstein, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thornton
Released: October 23, 2003
Grade: A

Joel and Ethan Coen are such gifted filmmakers that you need to see their films several times to appreciate.  In 1996, their story of a kidnapping gone wrong in a sleepy American town earned seven Academy Award nominations.  Since Fargo, the Coen brothers have created three more wonderful films – The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn’t There.  I was critical of all three on first viewing but time has proven me wrong.  Just last Thursday I turned to my dvd collection and selected Lebowski to watch for the umpteenth time.

I will not make the same mistake in underestimating Intolerable Cruelty.  It’s the story of two people looking for victory in all the wrong places.  George Clooney is Miles Massey, the nation’s finest divorce attorney.  He’s most famous for the “Massey pre-nup” – a flawless document that never once been penetrated.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is Marylin Rexroth, a woman who thinks she’s found freedom and independence after catching her wealthy husband (Herrmann) in bed with another.

Unfortunately for Marylin, her husband employs the services of Miles Massey and she is left without a cent.  She is exposed by (the hilariously named) Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy.  Marylin confided in him that she married only for money and always knew he would cheat on her.

Unfortunately for Miles, he’s fallen head over heels for Marylin and can’t win her heart.  Matters are further complicated when Marylin is set to marry again – to a loaded oil tycoon (Thornton).  She approaches Miles for a “Massey pre-nup” which leaves him horribly confused.  She’s clearly taking this new guy for a ride but why would she want a water-tight prenuptial from which she will receive no benefit?

As it should be with a great black comedy, the hidden undercurrent beautifully laces so many of the jokes.  We see a battle of man versus woman and the differences which separate them.  We see the act of marriage exploited for pure financial reward.  We see the importance of trust in any relationship and the simplicity with which it can be exploited.  These themes aren’t new but the way Joel and Ethan Coen tell us certainly is.

Clooney and Zeta-Jones are at their finest and surrounded by a hysterically insane supporting cast.  The funniest scene belongs to an asthmatic hitman who meets a fate that will leave your sides splitting with laughter.  Just as hilarious is the subsequent explanation offered by Marylin’s own attorney, Freddy Bender (Jenkins).  That’s not all.  There’s an introduction with a long-haired Geoffrey Rush, a courtroom scene with a casual judge and a speech (with a dash of sarcasm) at a lawyer’s convention.

You may not appreciate it but this is some of the best comedy you will find.  Compare it to this year’s other releases.  There’s nothing better.