We just got back from the first great movie I’ve seen this year. The Coen Brothers’ version of The Ladykillers (based on the 1955 version that starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers) is another clever, irony-filled comedy in the style of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
This time, instead of mountain music, it’s southern gospel that dominates the soundtrack, with the Soul Stirrers giving us the bulk of the beat. Instead of Homer’s Odyssey, the works of Edgar Allan Poe provide the literary allusions. And on top of the wry smiles and chuckles of “Brother,” this movie tosses in some good, old fashioned belly laughs.
Tom Hanks is over-the-top, yet wildly appropriate to the comic role of the Professor–leader of a gang that wants to use a little old lady’s house to steal a fortune from a local casino. Irma P. Hall as the little old lady steals the show as she rules every scene she’s in like a typical, tough-as-nails, Baptist grandma. The contrast between the effusively erudite Professor and the down-home lady is the main thrust of the film and one of the main sources of its humor. Hanks and Hall pull this off with perfection.
The rest of the cast is great, too. Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma and Ryan Hurst are Hanks’ gang, and they all give excellent performances. And it’s always fun to see George Wallace (the sheriff) and Stephen Root (the casino manager).
There are a bunch of little touches (there’s a nifty nod to Forrest Gump at the end, as well as a couple of Elmer Fudd references “No more buwwets?”) Watch for lots of symbolism from the beginning, and especially pay attention to the preacher’s sermon!