The Ladykillers * * *

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Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Irma P. Hall, J.K. Simmons, Marlon Wayans, Ryan Hurst, Tzi Ma, Diane Delano, George Wallace, Stephen Root, John McConnell, Greg Grunberg, Bruce Campbell.

The Coen Brothers’ recent remake of “True Grit” was exceptionally better than the original. The same can’t really be said with this one, as it’s a lesser effort from the brothers. However, the Coens off form can still be better and more enjoyable than most on it.

Polite and eloquent Southern gentleman, Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, (Tom Hanks) rents a room from churchgoing widow Marva Munsen (Irma P. Hall), then plots a daring heist in her basement with an ill-chosen group of accomplices disguised as purveyors of religious music. They soon fall foul of their gospel-clutching landlady and as they desperately attempt to eradicate her, it’s themselves who one-by-one pop their devious clogs.

Once again the Coens working with cinematographer Roger Deakins deliver a film that is crisp and sharphly detailed. Their usual ingredients are all here, except for one thing and that’s surprisingly the one thing the Coens are most accomplished at; a tight screenplay. The film takes too long to set up the heist and by the time the plan is foiled and the whole deal goes south, the film is drawing to a close and leaves you with an unsatisfied feeling of what could have been. The cast do a fine job, but with the characters on show I couldn’t help wanting to see some of the old tried-and-tested ensemble of actors the Coens regularly employ; Steve Buscemi, John Turturro or Jon Polito could have fitted in nicely here. Marlon Wayans is completely out of sorts. He seems as though he stepped off the set of a disasterous Ice Cube comedy. Other than him though, the cast are good. Irma P Hall is a joy as the sassy landlady, and it’s great to see the Coens’ new regulars J.K. Simmons and Stephen Root but the real star of the show is Tom Hanks. He’s funnier than he’s been in a long time and delivers a performance of such wily eccentricity -complete with southern gentlemanly accent – it’s hard to take your eyes off him. It’s one of my favourite Hanks performances and his effort deserved a better script to work with him. I just hope the Coens can find another role for him in the future. It’s a collaboration I’d love to see again. This is probably my least favourite of the Coens’ work but there’s still plenty to enjoy and the gags are good enough to maintain a level of entertainment.

A fine attempt at remaking the classic Ealing comedy of 1955, but it never quite excites the way the Coens are capable of and resorts to some heavy-handed slapstick. Tom Hanks adds a big reminder of how good he can be though, making it worthwhile just for him.

Mark Walker

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