Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
Directed by Joel Coen

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* *

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A nasty, conniving woman (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is unable to fulfill her desire of wedding and divorcing a man so that she can pillage his bank account when the man she has married and is attempting to divorce hires a devious attorney (George Clooney) who outwits her stratagems in court. After the trial, the woman's vicious, manipulative character so fascinates the attorney that he falls under her spell. She, however, wants nothing but revenge.

Joel Coen's Intolerable Cruelty is an unpleasant, unfunny, forgettable, and mean spirited attempt at comedy. While Clooney gives an entertaining performance as a slick, cynical lawyer and Zeta-Jones is utterly believable as a self-centered, self-serving, litigious harridan, the sheer unpleasantness of their consistently vile characters prevents the film from being enjoyable.

While depictions of cruelty are rich sources for humor, particularly nasty characters can be so unlikeable that their presence irritates rather than amuses the viewer. As the comedic material in Coen's film is sadly lacking, the viewer annoyed by the characters is left only with such feelings. Nothing transmutes his discomfort into pleasure. The movie includes numerous elements and themes that could have been viciously and hilariously exploited, but, because it is not funny, Intolerable Cruelty is reduced to being simply disagreeable. Consequently, instead of laughing at the various pitiable situations depicted, I only felt sorrow and irritation.

Furthermore, the director's attempt to reproduce the feel of a sex comedy from the 1950s or early 1960s is painfully shallow and unsuccessful. He entirely misses the fun of such movies and merely makes Intolerable Cruelty trite and foreseeable. The story's various complications will come as surprises to very few viewers, and most will probably be aware that they have seen much the same thing done better in countless other films.

Intolerable Cruelty is predictable, nasty, and best avoided.

Review by Keith Allen

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