Bottom Line: Turn to the left. Turn to the right. Laugh for me, will ya?
Directed by: Joel Coen
Starring: Frances McDormand, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Nicolas Cage, Sam McMurray, T.J. Kuhn Jr., Trey Wilson, William Forsythe
In the cinelestial realm of storytelling, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are geniuses. The characters they have created absolutely subvert the standards of classical writing, with characters we simply cannot adhere to without viewing several of their stories with full concentration. Whereas typical scribes generally contrive an equal balance between characters we root for and characters we despise, Coenistic characters bear an inexplicable divide between those awkward enough to love, and those we detest to the very point of admiration. These are the kinds of characters that would visit nursing homes and venture door-to-door asking, “Hi, can I have your stuff?”; the kinds of characters who would shout the word “Touché!” at the most unexpected moments, just because it rings to them as the word of all words. There are certainly people on this earth similar to these characters, but if it weren’t for the Coens, the cinematic world would have led us to believe otherwise.
The characters in Raising Arizona weigh out evenly between intended caricatures and accessible personalities. This is the story of a husband and wife–respectively, a recidivist criminal and a police officer–who are unable to have children. The husband (Nicolas Cage in one of his only well chosen roles) doesn’t find this much of an issue, but the wife (Holly Hunter) simply won’t shut up about it, as if starting a family will prevent their marital apocalypse. Yet being the rednecks they are (I would say “hillbillies”, but the connotation seems completely inaccurate), adoption is too difficult a choice. Corrupted by greed–er, halfway–the two stop off by the house of a wealthy paint salesman, named Nathan Arizona, and furtively steal one of his five infant sons, Nathan Arizona Jr., as their own child.
Clearly, this isn’t the most realistic story ever told. Opening up, the film seems almost serious, a description that very rarely fits its creators. Come fifteen minutes, it’s as if we’ve just opened up Pandora’s box. Everything is hectic and bizarre, dare I say enough that such latter works as Fargo and The Big Lebowski appear contained, bright walks in the park. Additionally, pacing is just about nonexistent, and the slight formula the Coens frequently use to craft subplots is somewhat identifiable, but only a skeptic would dare tear apart the film for these flaws. We’re not looking at a David Lean or Cecil B. DeMille epic that aspires to do nothing but change the world. A believer would merely accept it at that and enjoy the maniacally well executed fun.