Choose whichever adjective you want to describe the films of the Coen Brothers; zany, weird, intelligent, violent, macabre, they are anything but boring.
Whether in search of the American dream, or ripping it apart, the Coen Brothers transport us into the raw authentic world of characters we cannot help but be fascinated by. With fate often served as the main ingredient, characters flourish against the odds; the everyman that could be any of us. All feel authentic and well rounded. We care about them, or loathe them or pity them, but we feel something about them all.
Their landmark debut feature film, Blood Simple (1984) was a darkly comic crime thriller that set out the inventive and multi-genre style that would see them transform independent cinema. A film that influenced many successful and celebrated filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino, who was quoted as saying “Blood Simple was influential to me before I ever made a movie…I wanted to be written about like Blood Simple”.
In 1987 came their next hit and probably one of the funniest Coen Brothers films, Raising Arizona. A crime chase comedy about a barren ex-cop and her ex-convict husband who steal a baby from a set of quintuplets to raise as their own. The tricky second film making it evident they were not to be put in a box.
More comedy films have followed with Fargo in 1996 (a film that on the face of it could be described as a violent thriller, however, it can also be read as a love story which is both as funny as it is sad), The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother Where Art Thou (2000). All of these became cult classics that didn’t earn a huge amount at the box office but were films that viewers love to quote and go back to time and time again.
Although the Coen Brothers have stated they have no interest in awards, combined they have achieved fifteen Oscar nominations and won four. Fargo won for Best Original Screenplay and No Country for Old Men (2007) won three for Best Adapted Screenplay (Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel ‘No Country’), Director and Best Picture. They are in fact only two of nine filmmakers that have won three Oscars for one film.
No Country for Old Men is perhaps their most celebrated film and earned actor Javier Bardem an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor with his portrayal of the ruthless killer Anton Chigurh. A man so depraved, he decides whether to kill someone with the flip of a coin. Shifting focus between the characters, the film explores the themes of circumstance and fate, or to quote Joel Coen “People pursuing business where they have no business.”
The Coen Brothers’ fondness for reflection and a sense of displacement is also evident in some of their lesser-known gems. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), A Serious Man (2009,) and Inside Llewyn Davies (2013) all center around characters who want to escape reality and to get somewhere in life.
So far, we haven’t even mentioned classics like True Grit, Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and The Hudsucker Proxy, so now it is up to you to delve into the scripts for yourself and enter the (add your own adjectives here) world of the Coen Brothers.
Blood Simple | 1984
A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her lover. However, nothing is simple when blood is involved.
Raising Arizona | 1987
When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets, their lives become more complicated than they anticipated.
Miller's Crossing | 1990
Tom Reagan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, tries to keep the peace between warring mobs but gets caught in divided loyalties.
Barton Fink | 1991
A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discover the hellish truth of Hollywood.
The Hudsucker Proxy | 1994
A naive business graduate is installed as president of a manufacturing company as part of a stock scam.
Fargo | 1996
Jerry Lundegaard’s inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen’s bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson.
The Big Lebowski | 1998
Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire of the same name, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? | 2000
In the deep south during the 1930s, three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure while a relentless lawman pursues them.
The Man Who Wasn't There | 2001
A laconic, chain-smoking barber blackmails his wife’s boss and lover for money to invest in dry cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong.
Intolerable Cruelty | 2003
A beautiful gold digger matches wits with a shrewd Beverly Hills divorce lawyer who is increasingly attracted to her.
The Ladykillers | 2004
An eccentric, if not charming Southern professor and his crew pose as a classical ensemble in order to rob a casino, all under the nose of his unsuspecting but sharp old landlady.
No Country for Old Men | 2007
Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.
Burn After Reading | 2008
A disk containing mysterious information from a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous and daft gym employees who attempt to sell it.
A Serious Man | 2009
Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern physics teacher, watches his life unravel over multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking meaning and answers amidst his turmoils, he seems to keep sinking.
True Grit | 2010
A stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father’s murderer.
Inside Llewyn Davis | 2013
A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs | 2018
Six tales of life and violence in the Old West, following a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a traveling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters.
Article by Jessica Pell
Jessica Pell is a graduate of Middlesex University with a degree in Writing and Publishing and is passionate about all things script related. She is currently interning for Shore Scripts and loving every minute.