In our march through the Coen Brothers' canon, we’re going to forgo Intolerable Cruelty for a few reasons. Firstly, I have no intention of watching such tripe. More importantly, though, it marks a falling off point of the production team. But there’re a multitude of reasons why.
Joel Coen, who goes uncredited, has washed his hands of the proceedings. His stance and level of involvement in the film’s creation relegates the effort to second tier status regardless of personal views of the effort. Perhaps most importantly, though, Intolerable Cruelty doesn’t count any of the recurring character actors that populate all of the Coens' earlier efforts. Billy Bob Thornton crops up after having taken the lead in the preceding The Man Who Wasn’t There, but that hardly supplants a personage as important as Jon Polito or any of the Coens' other favorite small time players.
That being said, we’ll just make the leap from that Billy Bob feature to The Ladykillers. Resisting all temptation to comment on the 1955 film which the Coens' base this effort, it’s worth noting that even if we were to examine a movie in that light, the theoretical process is flawed.
The Ladykillers as rendered by the Coens' is a completely different animal than a film shot in England less than a decade after the conclusion of World War II. Just as comparing a book to a film based on the book is fallacious due to the change of medium, elapsing time has made any comparison pretty useless in understanding what’s going on in this picture.
Previously mentioning the Billy Bob character from the Coens' last feature is muted by the casting of Tom Hanks in this film’s leading role. There haven’t been too many huge names staring in the brothers’ pictures, with the exception of Clooney in O Brother. So, what baggage does or did Hanks carry with him?
It’d be easy to gauge his actorly largesse as imperative here, but considering the fact that Hanks so drastically affects the nature of his G.H. Dorr, Ph. D character to suppress his own personality traits that it renders the discussion moot.
The Southern college professor – whose back story we aren’t granted in great detail, but would undoubtedly be hilarious – is just one of a litany of thieves enlisted to rip off a casino. Utilizing the rented home of Irma P. Hall’s Marva Munson character, the assembled crooks ape the practice time of a rococo group while tunneling through the walls of the land lady’s root cellar.
The Ladykiller’s ensemble cast works to good effect, most of the time, despite there perhaps being a few too many people to keep track of. But with the surprise inclusion of a character like Marlon Waynas’ Gawain MacSam, the film serves to spread out the Coens' writing styles. There hasn’t previously been a character to be so interested in A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet In El Segundo.” But that’s part of this film’s charm.