The Coen brothers are now among the most highly regarded directors in Hollywood also thanks due to their second film: Raising Arizona, released in 1987. It’s a bright and surreal comedy that’s an early statement of what was to come from the two brothers who demonstrated here that they already knew how to write a funny screenplay (their first film, 1984’s Blood Simple, was very far from being a comedy). They also knew how to make an excellent film (by the way, the director of photography was none other than Barry Sonnenfeld) and how to get the best out of a talented cast with, among others, Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, and Frances McDormand .
The beginning of the film is amazing: the voice of Nicolas Cage (whose tone is already enough to burst out laughing) narrates the misadventures of H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage), an inept robber who repeatedly enters and leaves prison and falls in love with the policewoman Edwina (Holly Hunter) who takes his mug shots when he’s arrested. These ten minutes contain so many sketches and visual gags that it’s impossible to remember them all! And it’s only the beginning, since the film never ceases to entertain and the pace never slows down.
The love story between H.I. and Ed works great until she finds out she’s sterile. That’s when the two decide to kidnap one of the five twins of a famous furniture salesman called Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). H.I. takes Nathan Jr. home, but at that exact moment two of his friends from prison escape (Gale, John Goodman, and Evelle, William Forsythe), arrive at the house, and ruin the party. Add the fact that H.I. loses his job after a dispute with his employer Glen (Sam McMurray), and here comes a series of events one more absurd than the other in which there’s even a bounty hunter who throws hand grenades at rabbits (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb).
If you know the Coens only for The Big Lebowski (1998), well… the comedic side of those directors was born here, with an amazing Nicolas Cage (who constantly suggested things to change the scenes and the Coens constantly said no, please follow the script) and with that kind of surreal humor which became a staple of their cinema. The mere repetition of absurd things is hilarious: think of John Goodman screaming his lungs out without any particular reason, or of the big prisoner cleaning the floor grunting, or the trio releasing H.I. from prison a few times.
If you like Coens’ style of tight dialogues, crazy jokes (sometimes even extremely elaborate, like the Polish-based puns of Glen that build to H.I.’s dream with the policeman named Kowalski), and hilarious surreal situations, then the advice is to get this little gem of their youth (Joel and Ethan were respectively 33 and 30 years old when the film was released). After more than three decades, it’s still as funny as when it came out. Ciao!
PS: apparently it’s Edgar Wright’s favorite movie, and he certainly has a strong sense of humor!
- The movie trailer on Youtube
- The movie page on Internet Movie DataBase
- Movie review on The ace black blog
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