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The Coen Brothers - A History of Classics

George Clooney in Burn After Reading

Feature by Jack Foley

THE Coen Brothers have veered between madcap screwball comedies and sinister thrillers in a career which has seen them redefine the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars as well as launching a whole new selection of actors into the limelight.

In Burn After Reading, out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 9, 2009, film fans get to see Brad Pitt and George Clooney in a new light and it’s not the first time the brothers have worked their magic with the stars, as we can see below:

Blood Simple (1984):

Tensions rise in a small town when jealousy leads to murder.

Breakthrough role: Frances McDormand’s performance as the wife accused of having an affair.

Career-defining part: M Emmet Walsh became the actor of choice to play seedy detectives for the next decade in Hollywood.


Raising Arizona (1986):

Raising Arizona

Quirky kidnap adventure in which an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets.

Breakthrough role: Nicolas Cage went from being one of the boys to a bona fide leading man and displayed the oddball qualities that made him an audience favourite.


Miller’s Crossing (1990):

The Coens’ first foray into the gangster film saw warring crime bosses fighting it out.

Breakthrough role: Gabriel Byrne shot to international fame in this Prohibition-era mob movie.


Barton Fink (1992): Visually stunning Hollywood parody in which an aspiring writer’s Hollywood dreams are gradually destroyed.

Breakthrough role: John Turturro as the titular playwright.

Career-defining part: John Goodman as the cheery next-door neighbour – his stock rose and rose in Hollywood over the next few years.


The Hudsucker Proxy (1994):

The Hudsucker Proxy

Madcap business satire in which a foolish man (Tim Robbins) is promoted to the top of his company, and begins to have brilliant ideas.

Career-defining part: A late role for Paul Newman in this screwball comedy as the company director who comes up with a foolish scam.


Fargo (1996):

The classic Coen Brothers’ film – murder in frozen Minnesota.

Breakthrough role: As the indecisive Jerry, William H Macy was an instant hit with audiences and has not been out of work since.

Career-defining moment: Frances McDormand, by now Mrs Joel Coen, will forever be associated with Marge Gunderson, the pregnant policewoman investigating a grisly murder.


The Big Lebowski (1998):

The Big Lebowski

Bowling buddies get into trouble in one of the classic cult films of the 90s.

Career-defining part: Jeff Bridges is often simply now referred to as the ‘Dude’, after the slacker character he portrayed in the film.

Career-defining part: John Turturro as the Dude’s sworn bowling enemy, Jesus Quintana.


O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000):

Convicts on the loose in the Deep South in this throwback comedy. A visual triumph with a bestselling soundtrack.

Career-defining part: Who knew George Clooney was such a good comic actor?


The Man Who Wasn’t There (2002):

Black and white suspense masterpiece in which a murder rocks a small town.

Career-defining part: Billy Bob Thornton as the craggy barber in this superior Hitchcockian thriller.

Breakthrough role: Scarlett Johansson as the young girl who strikes up a relationship with Thornton’s character.


Intolerable Cruelty

Intolerable Cruelty (2003):

Screwball comedy homage to the works of Grant and Hepburn as a gold-digger marries a divorce lawyer.

Career-defining part: Catherine Zeta-Jones was given a new lease of life after her turn in this screwball comedy.


The Ladykillers (2004):

Remake of the Ealing comedy classic. A group of villains take on an unusual foe in an ageing landlady.

Career-defining part: Tom Hanks strayed away from his usual type of character by playing an eccentric Southern Professor.


No Country For Old Men (2007):

Josh Brolin in No Country For Old Men

Regarded by many as the brothers’ masterpiece, an epic screen version of Cormac McCarthy’s violent and bloody novel.

Career-defining part: Javier Bardem walked away with an Oscar® for his role as Anton Chigurh, the vicious killer.

Breakthrough role: Josh Brolin stepped out of his father’s shadow and became a sought-after figure in Hollywood thanks to his terrific performance.


Burn After Reading (2008):

Hilarious wacky comedy. Serial daters, CIA agents and goofy fitness instructors get their wires and much more crossed.

Career-defining part: Choose from John Malkovich’s uptight and pretentious CIA official, or Brad Pitt’s ultra-dorky gym worker.

Burn After Reading is out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 9. Watch the trailer and an exclusive clip