For Reel

Raising Arizona (1987)
February 22, 2016, 1:04 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): Joel & Ethan Coen
3.5 Stars
Raising ArizonaThe juxtaposition of Blood Simple and Raising Arizona would set the tone for the careers of Joel and Ethan Coen, who surprised critics in 1987 by following a crime thriller with a madcap comedy. As time has gone by, it has become clear that the differences between the Coens’ two major modes of operation are mostly superficial–if their dramatic films tend to be more accomplished, the comedies similarly play with distorted, often incongruous levels of reality. Furthermore, their commitment to a gag is no less a sign of their unique authorship than their storytelling devices in dramatic films. In Raising Arizona, for example, they employ a baby’s perspective point-of-view shot to make more of a clown out of Nicolas Cage, and later indulge John Goodman and William Forsythe’s howling as they erupt from the primordial mud. Even if these decisions are so outlandish that they risk alienating some, the Coens are unwilling to compromise to a more palatable mode of film comedy–this is the very persistence that backfires in more controversial efforts like their remake of The Ladykillers. Even as Raising Arizona embraces a certain Looney Tunes aesthetic, however, the film is actually as politically-charged as any in their oeuvre, playing out as a broad satire of the state of economics (the capitalist Nathan Arizona opposed by the McDunnoughs, who are interested in the redistribution of wealth). The Coens would go on to make funnier and more pleasurable films, but Raising Arizona is impossible to ignore as a marker of their arrival, and Holly Hunter’s Ed is one of their most hilarious inventions.

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