ARCHIVE REVIEW: The Ladykillers

Image courtesy of IMDB

The Ladykillers
Directed by: Joel Coen
Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen (screenplay), William Rose (the original screenplay)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, Marlon Wayans, and J.K. Simmons

Adapting one of the most British films of all time for an American audience is no easy task.  Film makers Joel and Ethan Coen attempt the feat here, succeeding sometimes and falling short the rest of it.

The original film was based in post WW II Britain and centered on a group of criminals from different walks of life robbing a bank and hiding out in the home of a suspicious and nosy old woman.  The caper ultimately fails, ending with the fatalistic death of all of the criminals.

In this new 21st century version, there are still a group of different criminals planning a heist, but it’s now in hurricane-devastated Mississippi.  The American melting pot also applies to the criminals, as they all are extremely different.

At the head of the pack is Professor Dorr (Tom Hanks), a madman who thinks his plot to tunnel through the root cellar of an old woman’s home into a casino’s vault is the most brilliant scheme of all time.  It could be, if the rest of those who follow him weren’t such complete idiots.

The actors chosen to portray the rest of the crew are hit and miss.  J.K. Simmons is reliably great as a northern liberal bussed in from Pennsylvania to help with demolitions.  Marlon Wayans detracts from his character, even though he delivers some of his well-written one-liners with expert comic timing.  As the old woman who rents a room in her house to the well-spoken professor, Irma P. Hall scores the film’s best performance.  The comic extremes of her character are perfectly captured and executed.

It’s too bad that the rest of the film doesn’t live up to the standards of Hall and the darkly ironic and comically brilliant adaptation the Coens have written.  The music is also pretty great, but at points it detracts from the film more than it adds.

As far as remakes go, you could do much worse (Michael Bay remaking Rosemary’s Baby anyone?), but that still doesn’t excuse the overall inability of this film to come together as a cohesive narrative.  Despite great writing, some decent acting, and awesome music, they all fail to work together, and in the end it kind of kills it.

Grade: C

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