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Tuesday, March 30, 2004
MEMO TO COEN BROTHERS: CRIME HAS PAID ENOUGH ALREADY

I am a fan of the Coen brothers films. Several of their movies have touches of brilliance in them - Barton Fink, Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona - and Fargo is on my list of greatest films ever. But somebody has to say it. They have finished for a decade or so with crime doesn't pay movies. They keep rehashing the same story, without adding anything new to it.

People can get stuck on the same story for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's because somebody dropped them on their head in childhood. Sometimes, a fixation like this can be a saving mercy of God which can also help the world..."YOU in particular need to brood over THIS in public, A LOT."

When artists get stuck on a story, it can mean some profound art, and then a lot of trivial art as they basically return to their same side of "the story" and end up repeating themselves. To anyone who doesn't love them, witnessing this exercise can be annoying. To do this in filmmaking borders on a failing in charity towards the audience.

Just the facts...

Crimewave - Hiring hitmen to do your dirty work doesn't pay
Millers Crossing - Mediating between mob bosses doesn't pay
Raising Arizona - Stealing babies doesn't pay
Hudsucker Proxy - Insider trading doesn't pay
Barton Fink - Selling your soul to Hollywood doesn't pay

Stay with me here...

The Big Lebowski - Hiring idiots to impersonate you doesn't pay
Fargo - Greed, betrayal, kidnapping and murder, don't pay, don't pay, don't pay, don't pay, don't pay
The Man Who Wasn't There - Crime doesn't pay in black and white either
The Naked Man - Revenge doesn't pay
O Brother Where Art Thou - Crime doesn't pay, y'all
Intolerable Cruelty - Being a blood-sucking attorney and greedy opportunist don't pay

And now...

Ladykillers - F*ckin' Crime doesn't F*ckin' Pay

Ladykillers is a stylish waste from some very talented people. Or, to borrow some of the subtle dialogue from the film, it's a F*ckin' two F*ckin' thumbs down f*ckin' waste. Tom Hanks, fails again, as he did in The Road to Perdition, to plumb and then sustain the real creepiness of his character, who ends up coming across as inconsistent.

Generally, I love the Coen brothers theme that criminals are basically bunglers, but they don't add anything new to that here and so it all feels tired and cheap. We've seen all this from them before, and much better. MAJOR f*ckin' PASS.

On getting stuck on a theme...

Once, when I was younger, somebody did me wrong. A very bad wrong. In a shocked and horrified stupor for the next several years, I processed the wrong in my brooding, in my writing and in my conversations. Friends, strangers, family - anybody who would listen go the story over and over.

Some of my friends got bored with it after awhile and started saying things to me like, "You're going to have to let this go."

[Pastoral strategy note: What the hell kind of help is that? Honestly, it's like telling someone without a ladder in the bottom of a 100 foot well to "Just get out of there!"]

Anyway, one day after I had rehashed the story with one of my holy friends, I ended up saying, "I am so sick of this story! How many more times do I have to go over it?!"

She looked at me with compassion and said, "You'll have to say it over and over until you are done with it." I knew in that moment, she would be willing to listen to me as many times as it took.

The cool thing was, her saying that to me, got me past the whole story. In that minute, it lost all its power. I never "needed" to tell that story again. Something about encountering a love that was greater than the hurt was bad, was a fix for me.

Just throwing that out there if you know any people who are "stuck on a story."