The Coen Bros. – A Recipe of Merits

In Commentary, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

Having recently seen Inside Llewyn Davis, the climax of what has been a Coen Brother binge session for myself, I decided that I needed to holler the merits of these two current and leading film makers. Having yet to see a film of their making which I haven’t liked I don’t think it would be too large a push to suggest that they may be my favourite directors and as such you’re probably about to read a gushing depiction of everything wonderful about everything Coen.

UntitledThe classic vintage ingredients. Where to begin? Perhaps with one of their earlier films? Boy, do they have earlier films, they’ve been in the business of making films for around 30 years now. Working with a wealth of experience, it is no surprise that they have such a distinct style: dry wit, severity, humour and subtlety summarising only a few aspects of it. You could name a Coen Brother film for each of these standards: severity? No Country For Old Men. Humour? The Big Lebowski. However, what Joel and Ethan do so well is the deft mixing of these in every film. Take the latter example, The Big Lebowski: humorous and lighthearted is what you’d describe it as to someone who hadn’t watched it before. However it is subtle, easily rewarding multiple viewings, presenting new consequences for each watch. The same nimble film making is apparent in their biggest box office hit True Grit, where humour is effortlessly mixed with severity; keeping audiences engaged.

Some flavoursome character. On my journeys through the brothers films one of the most apparent features to have struck me is how character-driven each production is. They appear to have a knack for creating complicated, larger than life characters with these developed characters being the pilots of each film. Evidencing this, you’ve got Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn from True Grit, The Dude and Walter from The Big Lebowski, and then Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. I would suggest that the Coen’s probably develop deeper character-driven plots than most and it is a relatively simple and very clever technique to have the viewer invest more in a film and to help make it that bit more entertaining. Inside Llewyn Davis operates this motif in a far more subtle and subdued manner but it still exists throughout the film. Whether it be the gradual development of character in Llewyn or the obvious, brass character of John Goodman, it makes the film more watchable.

1If music be the food of love …You couldn’t pass comment on the merits of Coen brothers without mentioning their stylised use of music. Perhaps my favourite soundtrack of any film is that of O brother Where Art thou? Using T-Bone Burnetts’ visionary use of music they together created a soundtrack which mixed perfectly with the tone of the film and provided audiences with the smash hit I am a Man of Constant Sorrow by The Soggy Bottom Boys. It also provided the moving version of Down to the River to Pray which when coupled with the spiritous imagery on screen created a very impressive and powerful scene, evidencing  the Coens’ skill in mixing sound and sight to deliver something dramatic, impressive and pleasing. This talent is again verified by Inside Llewyn Davis, where they worked with T-Bone, and the soundtrack was carefully considered with the music adding depth to the film. The Coens do the soundtrack justice by presenting each song in full whilst also having all but one of the songs recorded live; suggesting that if you are going to do a job, at least do it properly.

Inside Llewyn Davis was years in the making and clearly took tremendous time and effort as a film of that intricacy does. The Coen’s have admitted that they have no plans for their next endeavor but it remains exciting to see what they will turn their hands to next, having already proven themselves versatile enough to work on effectively any script which takes their fancy. Many are calling for a full blown comedy, perhaps a bit more like their earlier work. Myself, I would like them to adapt and remake another existing, older film with their distinct style.

Rupert Radley

Rupert Radley contributes weekly to the film section of The Student. He studies Politics at the University of Edinburgh. His interests are summed up by film, cats and coffee. We could go on about Rupert a bit more but that’s about it really.

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