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Intolerable Cruelty

If you're getting married and money is involved, you might want to get a pre-nup. But if you're getting married and you're worth several million dollars, you'll want a "Massey Pre-nup" — a legal veil so airtight that it's never been pierced, so renowned that it's worth an entire semester of study at Harvard Law. The author of the Massey Pre-nup is none other than Miles Massey (George Clooney), a scurrilous L.A. divorce attorney who believes that the entire institution of marriage is flawed simply because it's built on compromise. For Miles, a life worth living is one that's led in ruthless battle with one's opponents, in the tradition of Henry VIII and Attilia the Hun. But Miles, with his $3,000 suits and Porsche convertible, is just a cad compared to Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones) — the callous gold-digger has just filed for divorce from her wealthy husband Rex (Edward Herrmann) in the wake of his affair with a young woman. Rex has no pre-nup, and all of his money is tied up in real-estate development, but he hires Miles to demolish his wife's case in court. Which he does. It's only a matter of time before Marylin moves on to another man, oil tycoon Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), but curiously enough she hires Miles to draft a Massey Pre-nup for her impending nuptials. Even more curiously, Miles starts falling for his winsome rival. A script kicking around Hollywood for nearly a decade before it went into production, Intolerable Cruelty (2003) is a Coen Brothers film, although at times it feels more like the talented auteurs are making a guest appearance on another filmmaker's project. There is plenty of Coen-esque detail to chew on, including wry slapstick moments, streams of witty dialogue, and plenty of supporting characters who entertain with indelible eccentricity (the pool boy, the Baron Krauss von Espy, the coffee-shop waitress, the hired killer Wheezy Joe). No surprise there — the Coens reportedly created the original draft, which was revised by other writers in intervening years (three writers get screenplay credit here). They only agreed to take the helm after producer Brian Grazer approached them, sharing a co-directing credit. For Coen aficionados, the additional voices seem evident — the best of the Coens' work combines dark humor with crime, violence, and a trenchant sense of doom. Intolerable Cruelty positively sparkles next to Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, and Fargo. It also shows that the Coens remain students of the screwball genre, and in particular the movies of Preston Sturges, who filled his pictures with crooks, con-artists, and hopeless schlubs, never offering a clear protagonist, and instead focusing on the amusing, bittersweet failings of the human condition. Clooney gets to play the schmoe here, a predatory attorney who finds himself getting weak-kneed over the one woman in the world he knows he cannot trust. Zeta-Jones, as the femme fatale, plays it straight, but they make a spectacular-looking duo and have good comic timing together. And the Coens have the clout to assemble a first-rate supporting cast, which includes Herrmann, Thornton, Geoffrey Rush, and Cedric the Entertainer. It's won't be remembered as one of the brothers' finer achievements — then again, it isn't easy to sustain a comedy with generally unlikable characters. Intolerable Cruelty manages the task with ease. Universal's DVD features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include the featurette "A Look Inside Intolerable Cruelty," which may set a new luvvies-per-minute record (12 min.), a look at the wardrobe selections (5 min.), four outtake reels, cast-and-crew notes, and DVD-ROM content. Keep-case.

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