The Coen Brothers’ newest film, The Ladykillers, opens with a sunny, blue sky pierced by a dark, gothic tower and gargoyles. These images hint at the upcoming events of the film which, following the trademark Coen style, mixes crime, murder, and violence to create comedy. Only Joel and Ethan Coen have managed to skillfully mix the macabre and the hilarious to create powerful and incredibly enjoyable films like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, or O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
The Ladykillers is actually based on a comedy of the same title that came out in 1955 starring Alec Guinness among other notable English comedic actors. The movie’s plot revolves around a robbery scheme hatched by the peculiar but intelligent Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, Ph.D. (Tom Hanks). The professor plans to tunnel into a casino vault and steal the loot. To help in his plan, the professor teams up with a rather eclectic group of wannabe criminals consisting of a trash-talking custodian (Marlon Waynes), an all-muscle-no-mind football brute (Ryan Hurst), a clumsy handyman (J. K. Simmons), and a former member of the Viet Cong turned doughnut shop owner (Tzi Ma). In order to pull off the robbery, the criminals use the basement of an unsuspecting widow (Irma Hall) to start their tunneling. To cover up their actions, the group pretends to be renaissance musicians. Eventually the widow catches on to the crime in progress, and Hanks and company must find a way to dispose of her.
The cast of The Ladykillers is as diverse as the roles they play. The film mixes seasoned actors like Hanks with relative newcomers to the screen. In a film such as this, which contains so many different roles, it is easy for one actor to over or underplay his or her part. In this case, however, each actor fulfills his or her role perfectly.
Without a doubt, Hanks remains the center of the film. His semi-psychotic role as Professor Dorr is acted with the full breadth of his talent. Hanks brings his “Colonel Sanders gone awry” role to life with every dry cackle and twitch. Besides, who doesn’t like a Latin-speaking, poetry-reading, criminal mastermind who has a little taste of Southern charm to boot?
While the Coen Brothers manage to provide quality laughs in The Ladykillers, some aspects of the film can’t quite hit the mark. Viewers will get the sense that the Coens are making an effort to be funny, a drastic departure from their other films, in which the comedy naturally results from the original script and direction. In The Ladykillers, the Coens resort to slapstick and swearing in order to elicit laughs. It is understandable that the Coens would want to try out their skills at different forms of comedy, although it remains a little disappointing to see them depart from the type of comedy that made them famous. However, the Coens’ talent still manages to outweigh the film’s shortcomings. While not their best work, this film is still a must see for any fan of the Coens and anyone else who likes their comedy, in the words of our dear Professor, “Quiet … yet unquiet.”
Archived article by Mark Rice
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer