Written by / 11/29/2011 / No comments / , , , , , ,

THE COENS DIRECT 'A SERIOUS MAN' AND RETURN TO THE SUBTLE

year: 2009 rating: ***1/2
Gotta hand it to the Coen Brothers: after a decade of casting Hollywood bigshots like George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Josh Brolin, they make a small film where the most recognized actor is George Wyner in a quaint 1960's character-study involving a Jewish mathematics teacher, downplayed with intriguing droll by Michael Stuhbarg, going through sheer hell that's more a sluggish purgatory: his wife has just left him, his kids don't respect him, his brother mooches off him, and even the local rabbis can't help in his search for the meaning of life... and why life's treating him so badly.

Although wonderfully filmed, and reminiscent of FARGO with a bevy of quirky, long-faced drones sinking deeper into their own personal abyss, the odd charm peters out and we're left with questions without answers, as well as scenes far too long for their own good, and with little payoff: For instance, the b-story involving Stuhbarg's stoned son preparing for his bar mitzvah, and an ultimately pointless tale about teeth and devil worship. But the first ten minutes, which has nothing to do with the rest of the film... centering on a Yiddish couple in the 19th century visited by a dead man... is perhaps the best and/or most intriguing scene; and a dilemna where an Asian kid wants a paid-off grade is also a standout. All part of this hit-miss journey that's actually, come to think of it, a solid home run compared to the adapted crap they've turned out. In a nutshell, it's best when they write their own stuff, choosing characters over actors.
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