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The Ladykillers

September 5, 2010

The Ladykillers (2004)
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Actors: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans

Synopsis: A band of criminals seek board in the house of a Southern lady (Irma P. Hall) as they plan a robbery. Things don’t work out quite as they might have planned….

Review: This is a little gem of a movie, an unqualified success for the Coen brothers that builds on the merits of its underrated predecessor, Intolerable Cruelty, as the Coens move into their so-called ‘respectable’ mainstream career phase.

Remakes in music, let alone cinema, are invariably redundant exercises with the new version failing to either recreate the successful ingredients of the original or adapt it appropriately to its own style or era. The Coen brothers’ The Ladykillers however is completely in spirit with Alexander Mackendrick’s 1955 Ealing classic, with all the replacement strategies feeling intuitively admissible. So, for the ‘Little Britain’ of post-war London, we get a timeless, sleepy Mississippi town. For Katie Johnson’s dotty, tea-drinking Mrs Wilberforce, meet Irma P. Hall’s doughty, gospel-loving widow Mrs Munson. And, most surprisingly of all, Alec Guinness’ spooky and cunning professor is brilliantly re-imagined as a ridiculously verbose ‘Southern Gent’ played by Tom Hanks. Barely any aspect of the film, whether viewed on its own accord or through the auspice of its adaptation is ill-conceived. Even the fairly insubstantial character Lump, gets a brilliant introductory coda, revealing his status as a useless Gridiron lineman through a hilarious POV shot, thus proving the Coens’ have lost none of the visual inventiveness to go with their renowned gift for dialogue. Even if the film feels ever so slightly inconsequential by its end, then that would be exactly the same feeling I derived from Mackendrick’s original, appropriately underlining just how this movie is a strangely uncanny and ingenious adaptation of a much-loved classic. (May 2006)

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