Ladykillers, Not the Coen’s Best

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

The Ladykillers is a curious little trifle from America’s favorite weird stylists of the cinema, the Coen brothers. That the film works at all is a tribute to the Coens (and their wildly wonderful cast). That the film doesn’t quite work completely is also a tribute to the Coens.

Here, the Coens tread on holy ground, remaking a film for the first time. The film in question is the classic from the British Ealing Studios, which churned out a number of hilarious comedies in the 1950s, most starring Alec Guiness. The basic plot of both films is the same: a con-man uses an old woman’s cellar to tunnel to riches and glory, though he pretends to be practicing with his band for her benefit. When things go awry, the title of the film becomes quite appropriate.

The Alec Guiness role is filled by Tom Hanks in the remake (which has been transplanted to the American South). Hanks hasn’t been this all-out weird in quite some time and the performance is really something to watch. Hanks simply doesn’t seem to care about his traditional nice-guy persona. He has created a real creep who is also quite odd this time around and he’s great at it. The other members of his team vary from the quite effective (Tzi Ma as the General) to the slightly less effective (Marlon Wayans as the “inside man” and all-around naughty word generator who seems oddly out of place in this near-family comedy).

Irma P. Hall, however, matches Hanks from beat to beat.

Her church-going, sassy old lady goes from cliche to fascinating in her very first scene. From there on, it becomes obvious that Hall will be a more formidable match for Hanks than initially supposed.

Hall infuses this performance with zest and heart.

Ultimately, this film is too much of a trifle to be truly effective. It feels like a weird little exercise the Coens are playing at (much like Intolerable Cruelty) rather than a full film.

The Coens certainly enjoy playing around with random actors and objects on screen and sometimes that enjoyment overwhelms the rest of their film.

Occasionally, they hit on an emotional core (as they did in Fargo), but most of the time they’re just being weird and stylish for the sake of being weird and stylish. The Ladykillers is no exception.

That’s not to say that The Ladykillers is a terrible film. In fact, it has its moments and has much to recommend. In particular, there are some fun jokes and the cast plays them all very well.

The only wish I had was that it all added up to more. Ultimately, The Ladykillers is a bunch of interesting ideas in search of a more successful movie.

3 stars (out of 5)