Based on the 1955 film directed by Alexander Mackendrick and written by William Rose, The Ladykillers is the story about a gang of hooligans who move into a old woman’s home in hopes to plan a heist only for things go wrong when the old woman learns about their scheme. Written for the screen and directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, the film is a remake is set in the American South as it involves a more diverse gang dealing with an elderly woman who proves to be much tougher than the gang. Starring Tom Hanks, Marlon Wayans, Tzi Ma, J.K. Simmons, Ryan Hurst, and Irma P. Hall. The Ladykillers is an entertaining black-comedy from the Coen Brothers.
Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) is an elderly widow who goes to church on Sundays as she loves alone with her cat Pickles until a man named Professor Goldthwaite Higginson Dorr, Ph.D (Tom Hanks) asks for the room that is available for rent. After charming her and saving her cat, Munson allows Dorr to have the room while he also asks if he could borrow her basement so he and some friends could use the place to rehearse as their a music group that plays old-time classical music. Munson also allows as it as she meets Lump (Ryan Hurst), Gawain (Marlon Wayans), Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons), and the General (Tzi Ma). Unbeknownst to Munson, the five men are planning to rob a nearby casino hall that Gawain is working at.
Despite dealing with Munson, the men play to their plan despite a few complications where Gawain was briefly fired and a hole had to be blasted in the tunnel they had dug through. The men eventually succeed in the heist until another mishap leads to Munson discovering what is really going on. With Dorr trying to smooth things over, Munson reveals what should be done with the money. Dorr realizes that something had to be done as he and the gang would do whatever it takes to get rid of Munson only for greed and fear to complicate things.
The film is essentially a black comedy about five criminals using an old lady’s home to dig a hole so they can rob a casino only to deal with the old lady herself. While the film is a faithful re-telling of William Rose’s original screenplay that delves into the themes of greed and doing what is right. Joel and Ethan Coen do manage to infuse some of their own ideas into the story such as setting it in the American South circa mid-2000s and changing some of the ideas by making the criminals rob a casino and explore the world of Southern faith. These ideas work although some scenes in the casino and the hi-jinks that occur doesn’t feel as natural as it could’ve been. Also hampering the screenplay are a few additional characters that don’t work things out while the Gawain character is the worst of them all as he’s just a typical gangster-wannabe with a bad attitude.
The direction of the Coen Brothers is very stylish but also engaging in the way they frame their shots. Shot largely in Mississippi along with some interior settings in California, the film is about this world of this old lady who has a hard time dealing with the changes that surrounds people including hip-hop as she would often complain to a local sheriff that opens the film. While there’s a lot of great moments in the direction, there’s a few moments in the film that doesn’t work such as the montage of how each criminal is introduced. There’s some nice humor to a few of those scenes with some inspiring shots but it feels unnecessary. Other scenes such as Gawain’s scenes in the casino, despite some stylish shots, feels like it comes from another film as if they’re trying to appeal to a younger audience.
Then there’s the climatic third act which would involve the five criminals attempt to get rid of Munson where the whole section of that film feels rushed. Despite some great shots and humorous moments that is in tribute to the original film’s third act. There was so much more that could’ve been drawn out more though one key moment where a character had his chance to get rid of Munson that would involve a flashback scene doesn’t work. Despite a lot of these bad decisions for the film’s dark humor and drama, the Coen Brothers does manage to pull off a pretty engaging film that is enjoyable.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins does an excellent job with the film‘s very colorful and bright cinematography for a lot of the film‘s exterior settings that includes gorgeous daytime scenes of the small Mississippi town along with some very stylish interior shots for the scenes in the casinos and at Munson‘s home. Under the Roderick Jaynes alias, the Coen Brothers’ approach to the editing is quite methodical in terms of how they approach each frame and make a smooth transition that frame as it’s pretty solid work by the duo. Production designer Dennis Gassner, along with set decorator Nancy Haigh and art director Richard L. Johnson, does fantastic work with the home of Munson as well as the casino and the church that Munson attends.
Costume designer Mary Zophres does a superb job with the costumes from the casual dresses of Munson to the white suit of Dorr as well as the wonderful gowns the gospel choir wear. Visual effects supervisor Janek Sirrs does some nice work the film‘s lone visual effects sequence that involves a garbage boat and an island that serves as a great tribute setting to the original 1955 film. Sound editor Skip Lievsay and sound designer Eugene Gearty do terrific work with the sound to capture the intimacy of the church service to the sounds of explosions and ship horns to play up the atmosphere that is prominent throughout the film.
The film’s music is a wonderful mix of hip-hop, blues, folk, and gospel that is assembled by T-Bone Burnett that plays up to the world that is the American South. The hip-hop music by Nappy Roots and Little Brother is pretty good while it’s the blues and gospel music of Blind Willie Johnson, the Soul Stirrers, Swan Silvertones, and many others that is the real highlight. Along with a classical piece from Luigi Boccherini that is in tribute to the original film, music composer Carter Burwell does bring in a fine score that is orchestral to play up some of the film’s suspense and dark humor that occurs in the film.
The casting by Ellen Chenoweth is pretty good for the cast that is assembled as it features appearances from Jason Weaver as a casino worker, Stephen Root as the casino boss, George Wallace as the town’s lazy sheriff, Diane Delano as Pancake’s partner Mountain Girl, Greg Grunberg as a TV commercial director, and Bruce Campbell in a cameo appearance as a Humane Society worker in a TV commercial. Ryan Hurst is pretty good as the dim-witted muscle-man Lump while Tzi Ma is excellent as the quiet but very deadly smoker known as the General. J.K. Simmons is wonderful as the very resourceful explosives expert Garth Pancake who tries to involve his girlfriend for the plan while dealing with the more brash Gawain.
Marlon Wayan’s performance as Gawain is definitely the worst thing in the film as Wayans tries too hard to be all thuggish and spout lots of profanities as his character ends up playing to the gangsta stereotype. Tom Hanks is very funny as the devilish Professor Dorr who tries to charm his way to situations while often reciting the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe as it’s Hanks at his most entertaining. Finally, there’s Irma P. Hall in a phenomenal performance as the good-hearted yet conservative Marva Munson. Hall displays a lot of energy to her character while often getting the chance to steal scenes from her other actors proving to be a very tough old broad as she is definitely the film’s highlight.
The Coen Brothers’ remake of The Ladykillers is a good film from the Coen Brothers that features excellent performances from Tom Hanks and Irma P. Hall. While it doesn’t have the more devious tone of the original 1955 film, the Coen Brothers do try to update it with style where the overall result is quite mixed. Particularly as this is the Coen Brothers’ weakest film of their entire career though it is better than a lot of other comedic remakes out there. In the end, the Coen Brothers’ take on The Ladykillers is a fun comedy that does a serviceable job to get its audience to laugh and have a good time.
Coen Brothers Films: Blood Simple - Raising Arizona - Miller's Crossing - Barton Fink - The Hudsucker Proxy - Fargo - The Big Lebowski - O Brother, Where Art Thou? - The Man Who Wasn't There - Intolerable Cruelty - Paris Je T'aime-Tuileries - To Each His Own Cinema-World Cinema - No Country for Old Men - Burn After Reading - A Serious Man - True Grit (2010 film) - Inside Llewyn Davis - Hail, Caesar!
Related: The Ladykillers (1955 film) - The Auteurs #9: The Coen Brothers Pt. 1 - The Auteurs #9: The Coen Brothers Pt. 2
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