Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Brothers at Their Best; WILL SELF ON FILM Only the Coens Could Remake an Ealing Classic, Move It to America - and Produce Their Funniest Movie Yet

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Brothers at Their Best; WILL SELF ON FILM Only the Coens Could Remake an Ealing Classic, Move It to America - and Produce Their Funniest Movie Yet

Article excerpt

Byline: WILL SELF

The Ladykillers ***

Cert 15, 103 mins

OVER the past few years, watching the Coen brothers struggle to get that elusive box-office smash has been a bit like witnessing Nietzsche trying to write advertising copy: you marvel not that they fail, but that they ever bothered to try in the first place.

I remember seeing the brothers' Blood Simple on its release 20 years ago, and while its small-town location, Guignol climax and noirish plotting were by no means devastatingly original, I was in no doubt that this was the calling card of two intelligent, potentially very good filmmakers. If only they'd had the courage to stick to their singular vision of American reality as nothing but pastiche, then they might have become great ones.

Since then, the Coens have had their ups - Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Man Who Wasn't There (2003) - all of which have, paradoxically, been distinctly downbeat films, and their downs: the soi-disant comedies Raising Arizona (1987), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and The Big Lebowski (1998).

Fargo (1996) was just Blood Simple lite, while O Brother, Where Art Thou?

(2001) and last year's Intolerable Cruelty were curious anomalies, strange, rackety vehicles for the falling star that is George Clooney.

Now comes the Coens' remake of Alexander Mackendrick's 1955 black comedy classic, The Ladykillers, and, with awesome predictability, the purist anoraks are up in arms to denounce it as an abomination.

Why the Coens - or any other filmmakers - shouldn't be allowed to remake whatever they want is beyond me; I didn't even protest when Soderbergh remade Tarkovsky's Solaris, my favourite film of all time.

From its inception, film has been a medium defined by its remakes as much as its makes, something no doubt to do with its very mechanical nature. Some remakes are shameful trash, like The Vanishing (bizarrely directed on both occasions by George Sluizer); others are quite acceptable (High Society springs to mind); still more are notable improvements.

I suspect the reason that this particular remake has so upset some Brit crits is because it reminds them of a time when lil' ol' England still had a functioning studio system; as for the Americans, the Coens' transposition of the tale from class-ridden 1950s London to the racially queasy Mississippi delta of the present day has hit more nerves than they care to admit.

But if anyone were to reprise Mackendrick's tale of a heist gone laughably wrong, who better than the Coens?

It is worth remembering that Mackendrick's films ran the gamut from the folksy Passport to Pimlico to the sublimely nasty Sweet Smell of Success, a trajectory not dissimilar to the Coens' own. And, like Mackendrick, the brothers are delighted by film's ability to portray the sheer unexpectedness of life. …

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