2003-10-24 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ – Divorce, Coen-Style

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ – Divorce, Coen-Style

MovieScope By Robert Snyder
‘Intolerable Cruelty’ – Divorce, Coen-Style


In California where all assets are shared equally by husband and wife,
divorce is big business... particularly for matrimonial attorneys. With "Intolerable Cruelty," the Coen brothers are diving deep into the West Coast divorce wars, using George Clooney and screwball comedy as their weapons of marriage and mass destruction.

"Cruelty" is razor-sharp, fast-paced and wonderfully wicked. Unlike in Danny DeVito comedies ("Duplex," "War of the Roses"), somewhere beneath the ruthless greed of each and every character exists the slight patter of a heartbeat. This, of course, makes the movie even funnier since there’s something at stake... i.e., a soul.

Clooney plays Miles Massey, the anti-Christ of divorce lawyers. He is
responsible for the Massey Pre-Nup, a legally impenetrable document. It ensures marriage partners that they will only get going out what they brought going in, other than their own earnings during the union. In determining the intangible (that is, "love"), the Massey Pre-Nup plays a major role in the movie. "True love" among the characters is defined  by dramatically destroying the document, leaving the parties legally naked.

Massey is happily making his Sherman’s March through West Coast wedlock, when he meets his match in Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She’s the divorce-seeking gold-digger wife of a wildly habitual adulterer, Rex Rexroth (Edward Hermann). Although Massey massacres Marylin in court, she has the upper hand... in that, he’s hopelessly defeated by her beauty and demonic charm. It’s a Rhett Butler-Scarlett O’Hara love-hate relationship... the best kind for movie stars.

Clooney literally shines in the role, which features his character’s obsession with his gleaming white teeth. He works the rapid-fire dialogue devilishly well, but also conveys Massey’s long-buried soft side. While Zeta-Jones is fine as an ice maiden, she has more trouble portraying a woman in love (I couldn’t help feeling sorry for real hubbie Michael Douglas, whom I hope has a Massey Pre-Nup).

The Coens have assembled a great group of second players, including Billy Bob Thornton as Texas millionaire Howard D. Doyle, one of Marlin’s conquests.

At the wedding reception, Doyle declares his love by actually eating the
Pre-Nup It’s a moment that devastates Massey in more ways than one.

"Intolerable Cruelty" is sophisticated comedy, far superior to any TV sitcom. It features the Coens’ distinctive brand of wackiness, seen before in "Fargo" and "Raising Arizona." A laugh track is not necessary for adult audiences, although divorce humor is likely to leave adolescents out of the loop.

Before you get married (or divorced), go see it. Also, don’t tie (or untie) the knot if you live  in California... without the Massey Pre-Nup.

Oh yeah, it doesn’t exist. Don’t’ worry. I’m sure a "good" matrimonial
attorney can come up with one.


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