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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 15:37 GMT
'Cruelty' is more than tolerable

by Caroline Westbrook
BBC News Online

Intolerable Cruelty
Catherine Zeta Jones plays a gold-digging divorcee in the film
George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones are romantic sparring partners in Intolerable Cruelty, the latest comedy from quirky filmmakers the Coen brothers.

With its A-list cast and big studio backing, Intolerable Cruelty might just be the most mainstream film the Coen Brothers have made yet.

For all its commercial leanings, it still boasts many of the siblings' offbeat trademarks, with its odd characters and snappy script.

Yet it is a gentler film, taking its cue from old-fashioned romantic comedies rather than from the violent film noir that seems to inspire much of their work.

It is, in short, that rare thing - a Coen Brothers movie you can take your granny to without fear of causing offence.


Clooney stars as hard-boiled divorce lawyer Miles Massey, who is not above using questionable methods to help his clients win big settlements.

But he meets his match in Marilyn Rexroth (Zeta Jones), the soon-to-be-ex wife of his newest client.

He quickly sizes her up as a gold-digger, but still cannot help falling for her charms - and soon it is his own financial stability that is at stake, to say nothing of his sanity.

Ultimately this is Clooney's film. As with O Brother, the Coens seem to bring out the best in him, and he is perfect as the weaselly Massey. And he is ably supported by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton and Geoffrey Rush in bit parts.

But as frothy and enjoyable as it is, this is not up to the standard of other Coen brothers films.

Several parts - in particular an ending which feels false and belies all the nicely dark humour which goes before it - feel like the work of studio intervention rather than a pair of maverick filmmakers at the height of their powers.

That said, even a below-par Coen Brothers film is a good deal better than most mainstream Hollywood fare. And that alone makes it worth seeing.

So what did you think? Is it as good as their previous efforts? Or are they in danger of selling out?

Tell us what you think using the form below.

This is possibily the worst movie I have ever seen - usually Coen Brothers are spot on, but they sold out big time on this one. Utter rubbish, terrible acting - and Catherine Zeta Jones is the most wooden, useless actress to ever come of out Wales or any country for that matter! What a waste of 8!
Larry Schlesinger, England

WOW! Hilarious! Uproaringly funny - definitely the best movie of the century!
Layla and Helen, New York, USA

The Zeta Jones criticisms miss the main joke, which is how supposedly grown men can fall for women who can barely manage to conceal their disdain.
Stirling, Canada

I was disappointed after it recieved some very good reviews from a variety of sources, yet to describe it as a romantic comedy is the most misleading thing of all. It's hardly romantic and, whilst there are a few hilarious moments, not a particularly good comedy. If you're looking for a Rom-Com of the moment, try Down With Love. Intolerable Cruelty is enjoyable, but not memorable.
James, UK

Good acting, some great dialogue, gorgeous George, nice cameos and some very funny scenes, including one which made me laugh until I cried. Definitely recommended.
Liz, Spain

Thought this was a very dull film only enlivened when CZJ was on screen. She is great - very cool and collected - more than a foil for George's frantic antics...

The obvious Coen touches were grotesque rather than funny and George's attempts at comedy were pretty lame - pulling faces and underplaying his looks and vanity could not make up for a vapid script.

I really wanted to like it but overall it was a big disappointment, though judging by the laughter from the rest of the crowd maybe it was just not my thing!
Graham Thomas, UK

The only cruelty involved in this movie is making an audience sit through such complete dribble! C Zeta-Jones delivered a few good one-liners but for the most part seemed to be there as a decorative piece. George Clooney tried to make the best of a limited, one-dimensional script! There was so much scope for tension and witty banter between the actors, but it was virtually wasted. I knew we should have seen Finding Nemo instead. It would have been far more entertaining!
Emma, UK

Intolerable Cruelty was an accurate title. Absolutely awful, the only amusing point was to see Zeta Jones play herself.
Alan, England

I'm tired to the back teeth of English people slating Catherine Zeta Jones. Mr "Film Director from England", your views sound like sour grapes that such a classy lady - capable not only of a broad range of competent to excellent performances - is from Wales rather than England. There is no doubt, Catherine is not only a rare spark of Celtic beauty but is consistently capable of depth and complexity. It's the English media which universally underrates her undeniable talent - it would be quite a different story if she was English rather than Welsh wouldn't it? Credit where it's due please. Her performance in this movie is perfectly juxtaposed with George Clooney. A deliciously black match and great set of casting.
Pete Rogers, UK

What a piece of tripe. Neither of the principal characters is in anyway appealing. Two self-absorbed selfish fools. Who cares about them? The screenplay is stupid and obvious. It is inaccurate as far as the legal issues and plot. Divorce invalidates wills. CZJ should be careful of the roles she takes - this is clearly too close to her real life and while there is no acting it might be a horror movie for her elderly rich husband. The Coens should be ashamed of squandering their talents.
Alison Maclennan, Canada

If Intolerable Crulety was not not made by the Coen brothers, it would be quite an entertaining rom com. As it is, it signals the disappointing fact that the Coen's have started caring more about the bottom line than their art. Joel and Ethan - come back brighter and write your own stuff...
James Henderson, UK

Worth putting up with the shockingly obvious script twists and turns for the demise of 'Wheasy' Joe. A top comedy moment.
John Griffiths, UK

George Clooney is such a perfect Clark Gable type actor. Why is he mucking about with this kind of thing? Quality romantic comedies and dramas...how about a remake of An Affair to Remember?
Madeline, UK

Embarrassing and dire - surprised George Clooney agreed to participate in such a rubbish film.
Lucy, England

This film is every bit as good as any of the Coen brothers previous efforts, the fact that it is a little less quirky does not equal a lack of depth and intelligence. The Coen brothers and Clooney are entertainers and always have been. Sell out? They sold millions! A great, funny film.
Steve Dean, UK

Clooney was parodying Cary Grant way too much. He was out acted by Zeta Jones for once!! A good watch for a rainy sunday afternoon on TV enjoyable but not for the big screen.
Lynda Johnson, UK

I had free tickets to a preview of Intolerable Cruelty last weekend and I really only went because it was free and I was free. I am not a great fan of George Clooney or Catherine Zeta Jones and I have never been drawn to the Coen brother's other offerings.

That said then, this film was a pleasant surprise. It is stylishly done and very, very funny. The characters are all fascinatingly obnoxious, if slightly unbelievable, and there are really no dull moments, with the plot taking several unexpected twists. At one point the lawyer, played by Clooney, appears to be indulging in the sort of patronising, sentimental lecturing that often ruins American films; only for the whole situation to turn uproariously on its head a few moments later.

This is the first film in a long time that I can recommend to my friends AND my mother and be sure that they will all enjoy.
Rob Walpole, UK

Painful watching Catherine Zeta Jones ruin a potentially good script, impersonating a smug Persian cat.
Sarah Woolley, UK

Having been a huge Coen Brothers fan for years, I was really looking forward to this film. I knew that it was going to be mainstream, and it was pretty much as I expected from what I saw of the trailers.

Clooney is very good (probably the best I've ever seen him) and Zeta Jones does her job fine, but there's definitely something missing. It lacks the weirdness and quirkiness of all the other Coen bros films and is way too predictable in parts. It is funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny, as I had hoped.

Having said that, I still really enjoyed it, and is probably the best romantic comedy I've seen for a while (except for Punch-Drunk Love).
Chris, UK

Selling out ? If you mean the ending, maybe; but then what can one expect from a film made for US mass market. Otherwise hugely enjoyable. Very funny and the best Clooney so far.
Xtoph, D

Very funny, very entertaining. Great performances by all, except Zeta Jones. She's very gorgeous and all that, but dull as ditchwater in what could be a great role. Any number of other actresses would have played it far better than her.
Dave, UK

George CLooney proves again that he has a real flair for comedy. Another wonderfully repellent character. A welcome return to a Coen Bros. film after Oh Brother Where Art Thou. There is a nice relationship between GC and Catherine Zeta Jones and there is a slight question left in the air. Excellent perfomances too from Geoffrey Rush and Billy Bob Thornton. I don't often laugh out loud but I did this time.
Susan, UK

Two pretty people with no chemistry. Love George but would like to see him opposite someone more real. Good movie premise but it didn't wow me.
Kate, UK

What have they done to George? He looks awful. Can't stand CZJ. They should have cast someone else. The film is just okay. Someday, I'd love to see George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in a film together. I think there'd be some real chemistry there.
Fiona, UK

Okay, not classic Coen Bros ( whatever that is), but some of the sharpest dialogue you will hear in the cinema (probably anywhere for that matter) this week.

And don't let CZ-J put you off, and I speak as someone who can't stand the woman, she's not half bad in this.

A lot of fun if you're prepared to just accept it for what it is - entertainment, plain and simple.
Britsh film director, England

Once again the Brothers Coen are putting their distinctive stamp on a genre - in this case, the screwball rmantic comedy - and presenting us with a unique bag of twists. Enjoyable - but the performer who should be truly singled out for praise is Edward Heermann. The actor has matured into a wonderful character actor and he plays his role like an updated version of Ralph Bellamy.
Robert del Valle, USA

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