U.S. Release Date:
October 10, 2003
Director: Joel Coen
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, John Romano (story)
Producer: Ethan Coen, Brian Grazer
Composer: Carter Burwell
Cast: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language and brief violence)
The Coen brothers, George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton—these are the ingredients that should have made Intolerable Cruelty an inevitable homerun, instead of simply singling to first base.
A lackluster attempt at pulling off the cinematic hat trick of satire, farce and romantic comedy in one outing, the movie, directed by Joel Coen, fails through both its lack of identity and sheer earnestness to live up to the promise of its title. It's a shame, because for as badly as it derails, you can't help rooting for the good movie crying to come out.
Clooney plays Miles Massey, a sleazy, ruthless, successful and thoroughly bored L.A. divorce attorney who is a living legend in the marriage dissolution business. Oozing confidence and a bleached, toothy grin, he is at the top of his game until he meets Marylin (an even more stunningly beautiful than usual Catherine Zeta-Jones) while representing her kinky, dopey, train-loving husband Rex Rexford (the always solid Edward Herrmann) during their divorce. Miles instantly falls in love with the bewitching Marylin, while successfully prosecuting her high-profile divorce, which sets up a rather labyrinthine (and transparent) revenge plot that just limps to it's final, intolerable ending.
At its core Intolerable Cruelty has a wicked idea—take two fetching leads, make them as nasty as possible and see what happens when they fall in love. However, because of the script's multiple personality disorder, the picture sort of veers off course and becomes more interested in its conventional love story, not realizing that the source of attraction between Miles and Marylin is their native cruel intentions. Instead director Coen, aided and abetted by his stars, wants us to like these two rather unlikable souls because they're really lonely, loveable people deep down. Beyond the romantic comedy trappings (with a couple of exchanges involving poetry), the movie offers a number of farcical scenes such as several involving Clooney's boss, a weird old coot with no intestines. They just don't work mainly because the cast is so intent on selling us on the fact that this is weird but normal.
Apart from the farcical scenes, the acting is excellent. Clooney shows that even when he's in sub-par material he can rise above it. Cedric the Entertainer is hilarious as Gus Petch, Clooney's private investigator, but is so under-utilized it's criminal. His opening conversation with Zeta-Jones is one of the movie's highlights, particularly if you have a love of word play. Thornton is also under used as oil scion Howard Doyle. The real problem with the picture is Zeta-Jones. As the aesthetic center of the piece, she is luminous. As the comic center, she falls flat. Her Marylin is too icy, too superficial, too beautiful (sad to say) to work in this supposed dark comedy. Coen should have taken a page from the Pedro Almodovar playbook and cast a woman of less obvious aesthetic appeal who wields her cruel magic by her wits and charisma.
Still, the movie is not a total loss. There are moments of enjoyable, dark cruelty, but along with its conventional payoff, Intolerable Cruelty is much less than the sum of its considerable parts.
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