The Ladykillers

The Coens trash an Ealing masterpiece. Thanks, fellas

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DIRECTED BY Joel and Ethan Coen

STARRING Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Irma P Hall

Opens June 25, Cert 15, 103 mins

Have Joel and Ethan finally lost the plot? For the makers of Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski and Fargo to settle for a laboured transposition of an Ealing masterpiece to the Mississippi Delta suggests creative bankruptcy. And to cast Tom Hanks in the role made untouchable in 1955 by the late Alec Guinness borders on rank stupidity.

Hanks conveys ‘humour’ here via two things: a set of false teeth and an annoying southern accent. True, he gets to deliver the odd witty line, but for the most part all you see is Hanks the noble-everyman-next-door straining desperately for absurdity.

The motley crew of fools Hanks’ character gathers about him to execute the dastardly robbery of a gambling riverboat is equally unfunny: comic cardboard cutouts to a man. Ryan Hurst plays a Neanderthal linebacker who can barely talk. Tzi Ma is one of those inscrutable Chinamen. Marlon Wayans offers a virtually racist parody of a ne’er-do-well.

As for the gospel-hollerin’ landlady who inadvertently thwarts their plans, Irma P Hall also smacks of caricature. When did the Coens forget how to create rounded human beings on screen, and how can they not see that their would-be affectionate portrayal of African-Americans is condescending?

The film looks great, of course: the Coens’ hyper-retro attention to period detail and place is as arresting as it has always been. But as with 1991’s Barton Fink, the conjuring of atmosphere comes at the expense of characterisation. There’s nothing more hollow in cinema than technique for technique’s sake.

When the brothers made their first real dud, 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy, they bounced straight back with Fargo. They’ve now made three turkeys in a row and need to take time out to re-evaluate their schtick.

Roll over Alec Guinness, and tell Alexander Mackendrick the news.


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