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Film Review: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Updated on July 31, 2017

Background

In 2000, Joel Cohen released O Brother, Where Art Thou?, based on the Greek epic poem, Odyssey by Homer. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Chris Thomas King, Frank Collison, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Dunning, Daniel von Bargen, Wayne Duvall, Ray McKinnon, Michael Badalucco, Stephen Root, and Lee Weaver, the film grossed $71.9 million at the box office.

Synopsis

Ulysses Everett McGill escapes from a chain gang along with Delmar O’Donnell and Pete Hogwallop in rural 1937 Mississippi, promising the two of them a portion of the money he buried in his backyard. Along the way they have several bizarre encounters and inadvertently record a hit song.

Review

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a great film, succeeding in its attempt to tell the story of Homer’s Odyssey in a more modern setting. The story is essentially the same, seeing a man by the name of Ulysses escape his imprisonment in order to return to his wife and stop her from marrying another suitor. Other similarities abound and are executed in a humorous and interesting manner, such as Big Dan, a large one-eyed man who steals the characters’ money and makes a reappearance during a Ku Klux Klan rally where he stops a flagpole from poking his eye out, but is still felled by a wooden cross. Said rally also provides a moment for the trio to disguise themselves as Klan members to rescue Tommy Johnson, referencing Odysseus and his men sneaking out of the Cyclops’ cave dressed as sheep. Naming the governor Menelaus is fascinating too, considering the original Menelaus started the Trojan War and was the cause of Odysseus leaving home originally and this Menelaus pardoned the main characters, gave them legitimacy and allowed them to come home.

The film’s characters are great in and of themselves as well. The leader of the main trio, Everett, consistently attempts to come off more sophisticated than he really is, utilizing his talkativeness to turn situations into his favor and in doing so, mixes his intelligent facts with the simple colloquialisms usually found in the South. At the same time, he’s constantly making things up as he goes which continually get the characters out of their current problem and into the next one. His companions are good foils as neither Pete nor Delmar are very bright and will usually go along with what Everett concocts. The former has the worst luck, being beaten, kidnapped and put back onto a chain gang and the latter has an overactive imagination, thinking Pete was turned into a toad by the Sirens.

On their tails is the Sheriff who appears to be a stand-in for Satan. His sunglasses always hide his eyes, calling back to Tommy’s description of the Devil having empty eyes. At the beginning of the film, he hunts down the main trio for their escape and attempts to do so via overkill tactics, including burning down a barn with them inside. Further, he makes the claim that his authority is a higher law than man’s and doesn’t seem to care about a pardon from the governor.

Combined with all of this is some good music, fully punctuated by trio’s “Man Of Constant Sorrow” as the Soggy Bottom Boys. The rest of the music in the film is made up of songs from the Great Depression era and all comes from within the story itself. In doing so, the film sets an enjoyable atmosphere for an enjoyable film.

5 stars for O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Awards Won

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (George Clooney)

BMI Film & TV Awards

  • Special Citation (T Bone Burnett)

British Society of Cinematographers

  • Best Cinematography Award

Florida Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Soundtrack and Score

Grammy Awards

  • Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media
  • Album of the Year

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Cinematography

Nominated for

Academy Awards

  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • Best Cinematography

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

BAFTA Awards

  • Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music
  • Best Screenplay – Original
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Production Design

American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film – Comedy or Musical

American Comedy Awards

  • Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) (George Clooney)

American Society of Cinematographers Awards

  • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases

Awards Circuit Community Awards

  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Cast Ensemble
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Costume Design

Cannes Film Festival

  • Palme d’Or

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Original Score

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director

Empire Awards

  • Best Actor (George Clooney)

European Film Awards

  • Screen International Award

Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Screenplay, Original
  • Best Costume Design

London Critics Circle Film Awards

  • Film of the Year
  • Screenwriter of the Year

MTV Movie + TV Awards

  • Best On-Screen Team (George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson & John Turturro “The Soggy Bottom Boys”
  • Best Music Moment (The Soggy Bottom Boys sing “Man Of Constant Sorrow”)

Online Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Original Score
  • Best Cinematography

Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards

  • Best Original Score

Satellite Awards

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical (George Clooney)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical (Holly Hunter)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical (Tim Blake Nelson)
  • Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
  • Best Screenplay, Adapted

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards

  • Best Script

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