Light and breezy work from the Coen Brothers, "Intolerable Cruelty" doesn't seem like their film and originally, it wasn't. The duo originally accepted the task of rewriting the screenplay (originally by Robert Ramsay and Matthew Stone, who still share credit), then took a while to be convinced to direct, since it likely seemed like too commercial a project. Still, the Coens have managed to work their particular oddball style into "Intolerable Cruelty", a fun, intelligent little battle of the sexes that zips along with more spark than any romantic fare I've seen in ages.
The picture stars George Clooney as Miles Massey, a self-obsessed divorce lawyer who finds his focus pulled away from himself by Marilyn Rexwroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who caught her husband Rex cheating with a blonde bimbo. However, he doesn't want to give her anything, and is thrilled with the challenge.
Massey smoothly pulls together a case against Marilyn, complete with appearances from one of her strange, rich ex-husbands. Yet, she's not done with Miles, calling on him to draft one of his famous "Massey Prenups" for her new marriage to Texas oil billionare Howard (Billy Bob Thornton). Does she really love him? Probably not, but there's still a flicker in her heart for true love with someone who she's not just in with for the cash. Massey's also growing weary with his job, getting less and less satisfaction with each win. They're both sharks looking to get out of the ocean.
"Intolerable Cruelty" has fun, intelligent, well-done base elements. The screenplay by the Coens has great, memorable lines, laced with their quirky humor. Usual crew members, including ace cinematographer Roger Deakins, lend their considerable skills to the film, which looks great. The Coens not only bring their usual energy and verbal humor to the table, but there's some terrific sight gags, as well, including Clooney's rather lackluster match-up against a machine serving up tennis balls.
What takes the entire enterprise to another level is the chemistry between George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rarely has their been such a terrific on-screen coupling. Clooney's interesting style of comedy, which is sort of a wide-eyed, frantic style underneath a calm exterior, matches up against the icy cool of Zeta-Jones quite superbly. Zeta-Jones deals well with the comedy, but Clooney is often hysterical. Cedric the Entertainer and Billy Bob Thornton provide enjoyable, if rather brief, supporting performances.
Yes, this may be the most commercial, glam thing the Coen Brothers have ever done. It certainly isn't one of their best efforts, either. Yet, I do feel it's a successful effort, and one of the most entertaining romantic comedies I've seen lately. In a genre whose offerings often feel stale and familiar, the Coens have come up with something sharp, original and just a bit twisted.
VIDEO: "Intolerable Cruelty" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an absolutely lovely transfer that shows off Roger Deakins's cinematography very well. Sharpness and detail are generally quite good; while a few shots appear intentionally a bit soft, most of the film seemed to boast fine definition and clarity.
Flaws with the presentation were few-and-far-between, with only a couple of tiny traces of compression artifacts and a light instance or two of edge enhancement. The print seemed pristine, while the film's warm color palette was beautifully presented.
SOUND: "Intolerable Cruelty" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's soundtrack is mostly dialogue-driven, although there are a few brief instances of surround use for effects. The rear speakers also get some light use for reinforcement of the score. Dialogue remained clean and clear, while the score seemed quite rich, full and well-recorded. Both soundtrack options provided a fine experience, but the score and dialogue boasted a bit more clarity in DTS.
EXTRAS: Brief "making of" featurette, outtakes, wardrobe featurette and bios. Although Universal's usual forced trailers appear before the main menu, thankfully they're kept to a somewhat brief 1-1/2 minutes.
Final Thoughts: Although audiences seemed mixed about the film, I liked the Coen's original, amusing take on the romantic comedy. Clooney and Zeta-Jones are also especially good in the leads. Universal's DVD edition provides excellent video quality, fine audio and a couple of okay supplements. Recommended.
The Film ***