Sunday, October 12, 2003

Intolerable Cruely (IMDB) (Netflix)
The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, wrote this originally as a work for hire and it bounced around Hollywood for awhile, but when George Clooney expressed interest they brought it back in-house. Clooney is Miles Massey, a divorce lawyer non-pareil and creator of the Massey Pre-Nuptial Agreement, which "has never been penetrated." Catherine Zeta-Jones is major league golddigger who encounters Clooney across the negotiating table and in the courtroom. Their mutual interest quickly becomes clear, but not their motivations, and sorting those out consumes the back half of this screwball comedy, complete with Coen touches of slightly macabre humor.

It's been fun watching Clooney expand his portfolio from two-dimensional TV star (ER) to one-dimensional action figure (The Peacemaker) to comic performer (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to well-rounded dramatic actor (Solaris), and "Intolerable" continues this progression with an open kimono performance that could have been embarrassing had it not hit the mark. Zeta-Jones goes very much the other way, focusing on her character's calculating side, which makes for an enjoyable contrast if not the most noteworthy role. As noted by fellow filmgoer Peggy Folz, the pace flagged in the middle, which tends to take the screwball out of the comedy, and many of the best lines are in the commercials, but there's more than enough left to surprise and sustain interest. The wide assortment of offbeat character actors, another reliable Coen element, rounds out an enjoyable 100 minutes. Coen aficionados might find this too mainstream, others will see it as a sign of maturity.