Okay, Real Good, Then

The Coen Brothers as Leading Men

by Jimmy Callaway

2 September 2010


The Coen brothers’ stable of actors is not to be trifled with. It boasts such enormous matinée idols as George Clooney and Brad Pitt, as well as stunning lights in the cult of the character actor like John Turturro and Steve Buscemi, and certainly not least, Frances McDormand, who, in this writer’s opinion, should be a million times more recognized for her depthless talent than she currently is. What is arguably Nicholas Cage’s finest work is also a Coen brothers film, and though Jeff Bridges had already established a stellar career before being cast in The Big Lebowski, it was that film that embedded him in the ravenous minds of a new generation.

But it is the truth that an actor is only as good as his or her writer. As delightful as any of the “name” actors who appear in Coen brothers films are, one need only watch A Serious Man to see that “faces” in no way restrict the Coen brothers’ ability to plot an intellectually gripping story which is also rife with lip-smacking dialogue. If that were not proof enough, I submit to you this short scene from 1996’s Fargo. The actors in this scene define the term “bit player”—Bain Boehlke, who plays Mr. Mohra, is credited to only one other performance on the IMDB, and it would appear this film is the sole film appearance of Cliff Rakerd (Officer Olsen).  Even if Rakerd were to have a hundred more appearances in other films, one would be hard-pressed to recognize him here, as both actors are almost completely obscured by their costumes. This scene is all dialogue: there are no showy camera angles or special effects, and no flashbacks at all, which may have been a more traditional way to convey the plot information in this scene. No, instead the Coens rely solely on dialogue. Fargo is their most dialect-heavy film, but even given the hilarious take on the speech mannerisms of the American Upper Peninsula, this short scene deftly demonstrates that when all the trappings of film are stripped away down to the simple act of writing, it is Ethan and Joel Coen who shine brightest on that silver screen.

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