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The Life of the Mind

Michael Wood, 20 June 1996

Fargo 
directed by Joel Coen.
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Fargo 
by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen.
Faber, 118 pp., £7.99, May 1996, 0 571 17963 0
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... and down here you’re on your own.’ These are the opening moments of Blood Simple, Ethan and Joel Coen’s first movie, released in 1983, and they look like an agenda, an announcement of work to come. They look that way only now, though, when we have seen the later films; learned that the appearance of raw and gritty realism in that first movie was ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘No Country for Old Men’, 21 February 2008

No Country for Old Men 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
January 2008
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... Joel and Ethan Coen often look like moviemakers in search of a movie; as if their perfect film were waiting for them out there and they had to do something while they were looking for it. What else could have driven them to their 2004 remake of the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers? Even if Tom Hanks is funnier in that film than our idea of Tom Hanks ought to allow, he’s not Alec Guinness ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘True Grit’, 3 February 2011

True Grit 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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... everyone around, especially the rugged individuals so infatuated with their own independence. The Coen brothers’ new film restores Mattie to the narrative; it gives her a voice-over and quotes her a lot. The actress who plays her (Hailee Steinfeld) and the designer who dressed her (Mary Zophres) get across a good deal more of the weirdness of this ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Hail, Caesar!’, 17 March 2016

Hail, Caesar! 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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... Eddie Mannix​ , in the Coen Brothers’ new movie, Hail, Caesar!, is not a devout or informed Catholic but he does like to confess. He’s not doing well with his plan of giving up smoking, as he promised his wife he would. The first words we hear in the film come from an unseen priest behind the screen in a church: ‘How long since your last confession?’ Mannix, his face half in shadow, says: ‘27 hours ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘A Serious Man’, 17 December 2009

A Serious Man 
directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen.
November 2009
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... just mildly desperate. Except that of course desperation is funny too, if you tell it right. The Coen Brothers’ new movie, A Serious Man, contains several jokes of this kind, and is such a joke itself. It doesn’t get funny until you start thinking about how ineptly unfunny it is. The ineptness of the genre is captured with disturbing conviction, and ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Dark Knight’ , 14 August 2008

The Dark Knight 
directed by Christopher Nolan.
July 2008
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... Batman and Robin (1997). I’m more than happy to forget the last two of those films, directed by Joel Schumacher, but the first two, both directed by Tim Burton, have much to recommend them – not least the presence of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, whose cheerful idea of havoc, very fine in its way, if essentially identical to what Nicholson is up to in most ...

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