Monday, November 30, 2009
Note: This film was reviewed for the "1001 Movies You Must See" Club. Click here to read the reviews of other members.
The Coen brothers first made a name for themselves way back in 1984 with the dark film noir Blood Simple. Their second film, Raising Arizona (directed by Joel, co-written by Joel and Ethan), is something that goes in a very different direction. While the elements of crime are still involved, this film is primarily a quirky, screwball comedy. This film is about as plot-thin as they come, but the fact that it contains any entertainment value whatsoever is a testament to the filmmakers and the performers.
H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is a convenient store thief who has been in and out of prison for years. He doesn't seem to mind it until he begins pining for Ed (Holly Hunter), a policewoman he has grown close to over the years. After several trips in and out of prison, H.I. decides to settle down, and he proposes to Ed. She happily accepts, and the law breaker and the law enforcer tie the knot. You might wonder why the Coens choose to breeze through so much story in so little time (in fact, H.I.'s entire prison life, and his courtship of Ed, lasts no more than ten minutes). Well, it's because there is a certain marital issue that is taking front stage in this film.
After H.I. and Ed move into their own trailer, and have clearly settled in nicely, the wife voices her desire to have a child. The two are ecstatic about the idea of raising a kid together, and they try and try again, but it turns out that Ed is in fact barren. But she's a fighter, and she's going to try everything she can.
When the couple sees on the news that a local furniture salesman named Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) has had quintuplets with his wife, Ed doesn't hesitate to ask H.I. to steal one of them. She isn't a thief in her own mind, but an unlucky woman that deserves the opportunity to be a mother. Needless to say, adoption opportunities didn't work out so well, so this could be her only chance. She is able to convince herself that Mr. Arizona and his wife cannot possibly raise five kids on their own, and H.I. hops along the bandwagon and snatches one of the boys, Nathan Jr.
When things are starting to look on the bright side, two escaped convicts (John Goodman and William Forsythe) show up to set up camp at the McDunnough household. Things only go downhill from there as these convicts, H.I.'s supervisor Glen (Sam McMurray), and a beast of a bounty hunter (played by Randall "Tex" Cobb) all throw their own little curveballs at the McDunnough family.
The story is a very weak one, especially coming from the Coen brothers, but their skills as filmmakers is on full display. They drag out every shot as long as possible, and while that does often result in some slow patches and annoying, drawn-out sequences, it's tough not to appreciate how great this film is to look at.
Cage and Hunter both do fantastic jobs, even though their characters are terribly under-written. When you take into account the tone and feel of this film, it's tough to take any of the characters seriously, but these two actors certainly do to their best to compensate. Raising Arizona is an uneven sophomore effort from the Coens to say the least, but there is enough here to please their faithful fans and possibly some other moviegoers along the way.