O Brother, Where Art Thou? on DVD
In Mississippi in 1937, Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) and two other members of a chain gang escape and head out for Ulysses' home. Along the way they meet a blind prophet, a one-eyed bible salesman, a guitarist returning from the crossroads where he's traded his soul to the devil in exchange for mastery over his instrument, a group of happy worshippers at the river, hypnotic sirens, a bipolar bank robber, hopeful politicians, and the Ku Klux Klan—all before Ulysses can reunite with his wife, Penny, who is about to marry another man. Based ever so loosely on The Odyssey, O Brother is a shaggy-dog story that's a stone delight from beginning to end.
The cast is superb and the actors are obviously enjoying themselves, from Clooney, who seems to delight in sending up his own pretty-boy persona, to his fellow convicts (John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson), to the magnificent John Goodman, whose likably amoral bible salesman is a gem, to Charles Durning, finally freed from all those grade-Z Burt Reynolds films to remind us of his true range. Holly Hunter also deserves note for her acerbic take on the patiently waiting wife.
Like writer-director Joel and writer Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski, O Brother is informed by its love of its loopy characters and their foibles—a big change from the chilly emotional palette of Blood Simple and Barton Fink and the cynical misanthropy of Fargo. As a result, the film has a zany charm that belies the hard realities of its Depression-era setting (not unlike a Preston Sturges movie—an observation made obvious by its very title, a reference to Sullivan's Travels).
The film's music, thanks to T Bone Burnett, is a constant joy—a survey of the '30s-era blues and old-timey music that was still relatively authentic and untainted by the recording industry. And the look of the film is striking—no, mesmerizing—thanks to advances in digital color-editing and the luminescent cinematography of Roger Deakins.
The DVD is loaded with extras, from the music video of "Man of Constant Sorrow" to production featurettes and storyboards. These are nice lagniappes, but the true treat is the film itself. O Brother, Where Art Thou? is pure delight from beginning to end. You might as well give in and buy it on DVD—you'll want to see it more than once. Possibly much more.