The Movie Waffler The Coen Brothers Box Set: A Celebration of Everything that Rules (and Sucks) About The Brothers | The Movie Waffler

The Coen Brothers Box Set: A Celebration of Everything that Rules (and Sucks) About The Brothers

For most people, their introduction to the directing prowess of the Coen Brothers comes in the form of a shaggy-haired, bearded man in a dressing gown with a propensity to being called ‘The Dude’.

A fair proportion of people who have seen 'The Big Lebowski' aren’t too aware of Joel and Ethan’s other work. Really, the Coen Brothers are like the geeky kids at school; incredibly gifted in just about every class, but incredibly insular and mainly known for that one time they set fire to the janitor’s tool shed.

As it tends to go with those working on the fringes of the mainstream and popular, there’s a hell of a lot of hidden depth within the Coen Brothers’ extensive catalogue. If you’re one of those who might have only seen 'The Big Lebowski', you could do way worse than pick up the Coen Brothers Collection box set.

Rather than discuss each of the titles individually, let’s take a look at the collection as a whole, and it’s worth pointing out from the off that the works of Joel and Ethan Coen are not for everyone. To be frank, the directors have a propensity to disappear up their own collective arse from time to time, bordering on pretentious and extremely heavy film-making. But if you can put that to one side, the box set is a treasure trove of cinematography for numerous reasons.

A Masterclass in Acting

Chief among them is what they bring out of their often stellar cast. For instance, George Clooney is a fine actor, but you’ve never seen the guy act until you witness his exceptionally nuanced performance in 'Burn After Reading' – same goes for Brad Pitt who also stars in the film.

Similarly, 'Barton Fink' has a veritable powerhouse of a cast (John Torturro, Michael Lerner, John Goodman and Tony Shalhoub to name a few) and the brothers don’t waste a single ounce of their acting prowess. Quite how the mind-melded brothers draw out such amazing performance and chemistry is something of a mystery, but given that many actors instantly accept repeat work from the Coens (Clooney being one of them), they clearly foster incredibly close relationships with their cast members.

A Whole Lotta Love

What’s also clear is the amount of love that goes into each film. This shines through particularly with the scene setting and filmography, which is executed with a photographer’s eye for composition and beauty. Even when things are looking grim, Joel and Ethan present scenes with a touch of class, and you can easily imagine entire days being spent just to picture a single scene a certain way.

And let’s also not forget their knack for humor. It’s clinically executed and whether it’s of the slapstick variety ('The Hudsucker Proxy') or more surreal in tone ('A Serious Man'), they never take it too far. Imagine the dark madness of David Lynch being tempered with the more subtle humor of Woody Allen and you’ve pretty much got the Coen brothers.

Ten Minutes Short

But while they satisfy on so many levels, at the same time each movie finds some new way to leave a nugget of disappointment in its wake. It’s usually to be found in the conclusion of their films – is it too much to ask to provide proper closure to all the story arcs before the credits roll? It often feels like they get into the editing room with a full movie and cut precisely ten minutes from the third act every single time, regardless of where that ten-minute mark falls (in the case No Country For Old Men, it’s right in the middle of a monologue.)

It’s obvious why it has to be that way in the films which feature such abrupt or non-conclusive endings and perhaps the other extreme – spelling everything out – would be even more of a cinematographical sin. But that doesn’t make the endings to 'Blood Simple' or 'A Serious Man' or 'No Country For Old Men' any less disappointing.

The Missing Discs

Although the set is a very apt representation of the Coens' works throughout the decades, it should be noted that there are a few notable omissions from the box set which stop it from being a collection of their finest work – namely 'Fargo', the aforementioned 'No Country for Old Men', 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and the brilliantly reimagined 'True Grit'. Granted, including all of these movies would result in a trunk of media rather than a concise box-set, but it’s a mystery why at least one of these seminal titles isn’t squeezed in, perhaps in place of the comparatively lackluster 'Hudsucker Proxy' or 'Intolerable Cruelty'. That said, both of these films show the more comedic and mainstream side of the tapestry, and replacing these with two of the Coen’s old Western movies wouldn’t make for a well-rounded box set. Perhaps the rationalization is that many movie fanatics will already have these certified classics outside of the box set so they gave preference to some of the lesser-known titles.

Either way, those buying the blu-ray box set get even shorter shrift – that set only includes five movies instead of seven, omitting 'Blood Simple' and 'The Hudsucker Proxy'.

All said and done however, there’s at least something here for everyone. Whether you’re studying film-making or simply a fan of non-mainstream cinema, there’s a lot to be learned from the big yellow box.

If nothing else, the box set as a whole is a very inexpensive and easy way of broadening your film horizons if you haven’t already explored the Coens' undeniably unique flavor of film-making.