Miles Massey (George Clooney), a prominent Los Angeles divorce attorney has everything. But despite his impressive client list, a formidable win record, the respect of his peers and an ironclad contract (the "Massey pre-nup") named after him, he's reached a crossroads in his life. Sated on success, boredom has set in and he's looking for new challenges. All that changes when Miles meets his match in the devastating Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Marylin is the soon-to-be ex-wife of his client (Edward Herrmann), a wealthy real estate developer and habitual philanderer. Underhanded tactics, deceptions and an undeniable attraction escalate as Marylin and Miles square off in this battle of the sexes from directors Joel and Ethan Coen.
Almost everyone who reviews films or works in the film industry has a natural love of The Coen Brothers. Joel and Ethan have the ability to make some of the most perfect films out there. They make it look easy. I know a few people who find it hard to rate a Coen Brothers movie because of how well-polished their final products are. The bar is raised much higher for them than many other filmmakers. But even as much as most of us love the Coens, there are many that have a hard time finding entertainment in some of their "lesser" films. (Even the lesser of the Coen Brothers films are worlds better than most movies out there.) The three of these titles that come to mind are 'The Ladykillers,' 'Burn After Reading' and 'Intolerable Cruelty.' My opinions on these three titles are where I differ from a lot of Coen fans. From an entertainment standpoint, I think these comedies are just as strong as their Oscar-winning dramas.
When 'Intolerable Cruelty' began its theatrical marketing campaign in 2003, trailers and advertisements made it out to be the most generic romantic comedy. I didn't even know that it was Coen comedy until after it opened. The trailer lost me early-on with its cliches, so I completely disregarded it. Once a friend let me know that it fell within the Coen canon, I re-watched the trailer, actually paying attention to it this time around, and saw the Coen brothers' fingerprints all over it.
In this quirky comedy, George Clooney plays Miles Massey, a cavalier, renowned divorce lawyer that, the more we get to know him, isn't nearly as smart/clever as everyone thinks he is. With a signature prenup that's 100 percent unbreakable, he's known throughout the industry. Only adding to his success, even when his clients haven't used the "Massey Prenup," he's still brilliant at being able to swing a divorce lawsuit in his direction with the simple use of pure BS.
Miles is completely set in his ways and content with his lifestyle when the movie opens, but as soon as he meets Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), everything changes. Marylin is a "gold digger." With nothing to offer the world other than pretty faces, she and her friends have done their best to marry filthy rich stupid men with intent of quickly divorcing them and keeping half of the absurd wealth. Marylin and Miles meet just as she's beginning the divorce process with her philandering husband. Representing Mr. Rexroth, Miles completely thwarts Marylin's plans by causing her to lose the trial and any chance at gaining a free fortune.
Being a destructor of marriages, this institution is one that Miles has never had any faith in nor any desire to participate in – that is, until he meets Marylin. He can't seem to get her out of his mind. He's obsessed with her, fascinated by her. Despite knowing that she's nothing more than a gold digger, Miles drops everything, including his code of ethics, to be with her. It's a risk he's willing to take. Can Marylin actually love him, or is he just her next wealthy target?
One aspect of the Coen comedies that I love is how smart, witty, intellectual, and cerebral they are once you put a little extra though into them. 'Intolerable Cruelty' is no exception. If 'Intolerable Cruelty' is trying to make a social statement, it's saying that lawyers are dumb manipulators who thrive on making money for themselves and their clients – no matter how unethical and immoral (and illegal). They're bumbling idiots who completely disregard right, wrong, civility, and justice. Their sole focus is on making money. They're out of touch with how real people act and feel.
I love watching 'Intolerable Cruelty' with people who haven't seen it. The style of comedy and the twisted story cause people to squirm. I can only imagine how those who went into it expecting a rom-com felt about it while watching it. Those who aren't suspecting the craziness of a Coen comedy probably thought it was the stupidest movie they'd ever seen. I remember hearing this response from friends after watching 'Burn After Reading.' They couldn't get past the absurdly oblivious-to-the-world characters. Seeing how many of the character fall into this same category, I imagine the responses were similar.
Admittedly, 'Intolerable Cruelty' isn't the best comedy by The Coen Brothers – but it's still a title that every Coen fan will want to have on their shelves.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has placed 'Intolerable Cruelty' on a Region A BD-50 disc. The blue Elite keepcase's artwork is identical to the 2004 DVD release, although pictures of the disc's artwork online might lead you to believe otherwise. Included with this disc is a code that can be redeemed for both an iTunes and Ultraviolet digital copy of the movie. Universal has changed their long-standing main menu design and usage on this disc. After a bunch of skippable content, instead of going to their standard main menu, we're lead straight into the film. There isn't a main menu at all, but the pop-up menu still carries a similar layout to their old main menus.
'Intolerable Cruelty' has been given a decent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that presents the film in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The greatest aspects of this Blu-ray's video quality are the lack of cheap enhancers (DNR and edge enhancement) and the overall cleanliness of the picture. Most age-revealing flaws have been cleaned up and removed. Less than a ten instances of dirt or debris caught my attention.
Some of the film was shot with a soft and romantic style, so the entirety of the film doesn't always show off the Blu-ray's great details – but they're still there. The romantic settings are typically bright and warm. In those scenes, colors are highly saturated. Blues and reds are deep and vibrant. White lighting is wildly bright, revealing fantastically defined rays. One scene in a fancy restaurant shows our leading couple dining with a lamp glowing in the middle of the table. The focus is so soft in this scene that their fine facial features are lost. But when we step out of the romance and the stage sets, we see the details this disc can offer up. The outdoor wedding scene halfway through the movie shows how sharp it can appear. Objects in the foreground – such as people, clothing and jewelry – are highly textured. Surprisingly, background objects – such as trees and grass – are just as detailed.
Along with the grainy signature appearance of celluloid, some digital noise pops up throughout. It's not much and it doesn't happen often, but it's there.
'Intolerable Cruelty' carries a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's a little more active than most romantic comedies, but not as dynamic as non-romantic comedies. The audio starts off exactly how most rom-coms sound – front-heavy. But it doesn't take long for the mix to spread out of the forward and central channels to the surrounds. The music, most of which is quirky and zany, spans from all around the room. The only problem is that it's not dynamically mixed. It's loud and prominent, but there's somewhat of a flat feel to it.
Although the film isn't filled them, effects are very well mixed. We're introduced to Marylin's soon-to-be ex-husband while he's drunkenly cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible. His equally inebriated mistress is hooting and hollering the whole time. As the car flies across the road (and screen), the mistress' howls seamlessly bounce from speaker to speaker. In outdoor settings, passing traffic and chirping birds can be heard in the surround channels. Unlike the music, there are definitely some dynamics in the effects mixing.
With vocals being consistently crisp, clear and audible over the other parts of the mix, there really isn't much to complain about with this track.
The three special features included on the Blu-ray were previously found on the DVD.
Admittedly, 'Intolerable Cruelty' is nowhere near being Joel and Ethan Coen's finest film – it's extremely quirky and off-kilter; the trailers deceptively made it out to be a standard rom-com, which couldn't be farther from the film's actual tone – but it's definitely worth checking out. The video and audio qualities are pretty good, leaving very little to complain about. The only downside to the release is that the special features, all of which were brought over in standard definition from the DVD release, are on the skimpy side. For the Coen Brother fans out there, this is one that you'll want to have in your collection. For those who never saw or didn't think much of 'Intolerable Cruelty,' I definitely recommend giving it a(nother) shot.