Friday, January 13, 2006
Guiltless Review: Raising Arizona
I saw Raising Arizona - AGAIN, with some friends last week. I remember one month in the late 80's this movie was on HBO like every night. I joked that it was on about 25 times and I watched about 24 of those showings (not too far from the truth).
Reformed convict H.I. McDonough (Nicolas Cage) and his police officer wife Ed (Holly Hunter) steal a baby boy from a recently born litter of quintuplets because they can't have any of their own. A bounty is set on the baby's return by his father Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). This sets off a series of zany conversations and bizarre chase scenes. Of course the plot is completely secondary to the great music, over-the-top performances, and quotable dialogue.
I liked 'The Big Lebowski' and loved 'O Brother Where art Thou' but this is easily the Coen brothers' funniest movie. It is the rarest of comedy feats, a movie that stays funny after repeated viewings. There are scenes that become funnier the more you think about them. Like when escaped convicts Gail (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forsythe) are shown listening to what sounds like a children's record in a drunken stupor admist about 30 empty beer cans. Sometimes its a running gag, like the opening montage where Hi repeatedly is caught for attempting to rob the same convenience store. I can't explain why its funny, it just is.
This is where the Coen brothers' other films have run into problems for me. Sometimes their characters are just so stylized that they seem completely alien and its hard to be invested in them ('The Ladykillers' and 'Intolerable Cruelty' come to mind here). The characters in 'Raising Arizona' however, happily avoid this fate. These are not realistic performances, mind you, Hi, Ed, and the rest of the cast are often treated as cartoon characters. The opening montage, for example, is pure Wile E. Coyote. Yet somehow, I really empathized w Hi & Ed, a testament to a pair of brilliant performances.
Off the charts. Randall 'Tex' Cobbs plays bounty hunter Leonard Smalls, who is just about the meanest, grimiest biker ever put on film. Leonard blows up small animals off the side of the road as a matter of course.
There's a chase scene involving heavily armed store clerks, cops, dogs, and bag of diapers that needs to be seen to be believed.
The music by Carter Burwell mixes bluegrass banjoes with gothic organs and is absolutley haunting (it will stay in your head for days, and in my case, years).
Even the extras speak in a quotable, hyper-stylized manner ("Which is it young feller, you want I should freeze? Or you want I should get down on the ground? If I freeze I can't very well drop, and if I drop, I'm a gonna be in motion").
Like most Coen brothers' films, Raising Arizona exists in a hyper-real alternate universe where everyone speaks snappy dialogue. However, none, of their movies (with the exception of 'O Brother') is as immersive as this.
A lot of this has to do with the pacing, the film is lilsted at 94 min long, but it feels more like 30. There are no wasted scenes. The dialogue itself is extremely efficient, much is accomplished with each scene. In addition, The characters all speak with thick accents, there is a real sense of locale that is transporting. I have a real hard time getting up during this movie.
The plot is not unconventional, but the pacing really helps how much the twists drew me into this one.
Some of the surreal dream sequences, paired with the unique music create some sense of awe.
Randall 'Tex' Cobb is one scary mofo in this movie, while his character has something of a silly side, I was surprised how much I dreaded him by the end.
A classic, one of the only movies I can think of that is both surreally (is that a word?) immersive and laugh-out loud funny. Now I'm wondering why this still isn't in my DVD collection? Must rectify that soon . . .