– Directed by the Joel & Ethan Coen
– Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson

The opening credits state that the film was based on The Odyssey. I don’t believe the directors actually read the poem. At most they read the summary on the back jacket, and I’m giving them a lot of credit on that point. I say this because with the exception of a few isolated episodes, the movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Homer’s work.

The reason The Odyssey is so compelling is because Homer creates a desperate need for Odysseus’ return. Without showing us the danger that Penelope and Telemachus are in much of the story’s urgency is drained. Sure, Odysseus flirts with danger and disaster but he also flirts with beautiful, seductive goddesses and women along the way. Without a driving goal, the journey just becomes a collection of interesting events but certainly not a cohesive narrative. Just another road trip…

This is where O Brother, Where Art Thou? makes its fatal mistake. The only goal expressed by Everett McGill, Odysseus’ southern counterpart, at the beginning is a vague search for buried treasure. This is not enough to sustain the film. During this journey our protagonists are involved in a lot of unrelated, bizarre events. At the end though the viewers are left unsatisfied. We are left wondering what was the point. I liked several individual scenes but didn’t see how they contributed to the plot or to character development.

However, this may just be a product of my own preferences. I like tight, well-constructed narratives. Too much meandering and a lack of direction or theme tend to put me off. The actors do fill their parts well. I think George Clooney was born for the role of an Odysseus-like character. If spending time with interesting characters is something you like, then this movie may be for you. But it just isn’t for me.

 

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