Raising Arizona * * * * 1/2

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Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Trey Wilson, Frances McDormand, Sam McMurray, Randall “Tex” Cobb, T.J. Kuhn, Lynne Kitei, M. Emmet Walsh.

In 1984, “Blood Simple” was released and it marked the debut of a certain couple of siblings named Joel & Ethan Coen. It’s was a marvellously dark and twisted, low-budget, modern noir and put their names on the film industry’s map. You’d think that once a particular, successful, style has been established it would be wise to stick with that winning formula but the brothers’ sophomore effort went in an entirely different direction and they delivered a wickedly, wacky and hilarious comedy, proving that their talents are comfortable in any genre.

H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is a repeat offender for petty theft and can’t quite keep out prison. It’s in the slammer though, that he meets his sweetheart Ed (Holly Hunter), the police photographer, and not before long the unlikely pair are hitched, on the straight and narrow and ready to start a family. Problem is, Ed finds out she’s infertile and deeply longs for a baby. It just happens around this time that local and well-known furniture salesman Nathan Arizona’s wife has just given birth to quintipulets. H.I. & Ed decide that having four babies is more than anyone can handle and decide to kidnap one for themselves. It’s here that all sorts of problems begin for H.I. & Ed as they try to keep their new family together with escape convict friends (John Goodman, William Forsythe) paying a visit and a rogue bounty-hunter biker (Randall “Tex” Cobb) on their trail.

The first and still one of the best of the Coen brothers’ comedies. This was the film that proved that the siblings could do zany and outlandish comedy with absolute ease and consummate skill. It also allowed them to show off their ability to film with such a kinetic energy and an introduction to their (ever growing) catalogue of zany characters. The performances across the board are outstanding with special mention going to the two leads; Nicolas Cage is marvellous as the hen-pecked, buffoonish, human form of Woody the Woodpecker and Holly Hunter is equally as good as his neurotic and controlling spouse. Cage has become a bit of laughing stock in the film industry these days but back in the 80′s and early 90′s he delivered some memorable roles. This is certainly one of them. What a joy it would be to see him reprise these type of roles and what a joy it is to watch such a sharp and exciting comedy from quite possibly the most consistant filmmakers around today. If ever there was a film that could be labeled as a live-action animation, this could possibly be it. It’s not just the work in front of the camera that excels though; behind it, cinematographer (and future director himself) Barry Sonnenfeld does some sublime work. He assembles some very fine action set-pieces and keeps the camera moving at an almost unbearably frantic pace. Roger Deakins has now established himself as almost another Coen sibling with his consistently reliable work on their recent films but he wasn’t always the man to bring their vision to the screen. Sonnenfeld was. Another frequent collaborator is the always reliable Carter Burwell who infuses all the mayhem with a pefectly fitting score that brings the whole package together.

Quite simply, this is how comedies should be made. It has a little of everything and it shows exactly why, I regard the Coen’s as the most consistently surprisingly and creative filmmakers we have today.

(This review was part of a “double take” with Eric who runs the IPC blog. To read the post in full and get his alternate take on it, please go here.)

Mark Walker

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26 Responses to “Raising Arizona * * * * 1/2”

  1. AWESOME MARK!!! I can’t wait to do this again sometime!!

  2. One of my favorites Coen Bros.

  3. I Saw “True Stories” Before I Saw This One, So I Knew Who John Goodman Was, And R.”T”C. But This Movie Blew Me Away, Watching It As A Kid, As These People Talked Like People I Knew In Real Life, So It Was Very Strange. Only The Folks In The Movie Were Idiots hahahaha Or So I Kept Telling Myself.
    Nifty Review, Sir. Made Me Smile :)
    -B.

  4. I saw this for the first time a few months ago. I really like it.

    • That’s you just getting around to it eh? I wish I could relive the first I seen it. I try to, by watching it on a regular basis. It’s the closest I’ll ever get I suppose. ;-)

  5. I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers and this was the first movie I saw from them. I couldn’t stop laughing. One of the Coens’ funniest films. Nice review.

  6. I thought the movie was quite funny and the cast was great but I didn’t like it as much as you did. I definitely prefer Coen’s recent films.

    • My favourite has been The Big Lebowski for many years now Sati but I still hold this one in very high regard. Glad to hear you still found some enjoyment from it though

  7. Good review Mark. Wacky, wild, weird, but ultimately, very fun. I wish Cage would take more roles like these nowadays but as for right now, let’s just watch and wait until he finally wakes up from this deep-sleep of utter crap.

    • Cheers Dan. It’s such a shame where Cage has found himself these days as around this time he was delivering good stuff – Arizona, Peggy Sue Got Married, Birdy, Moonstruck and also Wild At Heart. He was always interesting to watch but now it’s just generic garbage to pay the tax-man.

  8. Hi Mark! Can’t believe I still haven’t seen this one. People say it’s one of Nic Cage’s best films? Too bad he’s fallen off the wagon of late.

    • I certainly regard it as one of Cage’s finest Ruth. You should try to get around to it, it great entertainment. If only, to give you an insight into how the Coen’s operated from a very early day. :-)

  9. Great review Mark. I’ve not seen this but love the Coens so really need to check it out. Hope you’re having a great Xmas and new year.

    • Cheers Chris. You really should check this out, it’s still one of the Coen’s best in my eyes. Hope you catch up with it soon and your Xmas and New Year is coming along nicely too :-)

  10. Stellar review, Mark. Really want to check this one out as I’m a big Coen fan.

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