The Ladykillers (2004)

ladykillers IMDb

The Ladykillers is an underrated black comedy from the Coen Brothers. I personally put it up there with their other popular comedies, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski. But for whatever reason this movie is just not looked on as fondly (if people are aware of it at all).

Maybe those who discount The Ladykillers are comparing it to the 1955 Alec Guinness film it is based upon. Having not seen the original, I can’t compare the two. All I know is that this version is hilarious in that quirky Coen way. It’s a very dark comedy with a strangely satisfying ending, and an excellent ensemble cast lead by Tom Hanks.

In fact, Hanks’ involvement in this project might be another reason why it didn’t necessarily take off with the general public. Hanks is most famous for playing nice men who are fairly normal. The majority of the audience he attracts are probably not the kind of people who would enjoy The Ladykillers. Especially since he’s playing an eccentric criminal mastermind suggesting that an old lady be murdered. I personally think this is a great character, and enjoy seeing Hanks play against type. However, I completely understand how people could be put off by this man.

Tom Hanks is supported by a cast who perfectly flesh out this silly, strange heist film. J.K. Simmons and Irma P. Hall are standouts, playing a member of Hanks’ crew and the lady they unwittingly involve in their robbery, respectively. But really, every cast member brings something special to the screen. Everyone gets a comedic scene that suits their character and plays to the actor’s strengths.

Is this the best film the Coen Brothers have ever produced? No, but it’s better than the lukewarm reviews it received.

Rating: B

This is a fun little black comedy by the Coen Brothers. The cast is great, led by the always solid Tom Hanks as a devious professor looking to rob a casino boat.

Hanks plays G.H. Dorr. A southern gentleman looking to rent a room from an old church going black lady (Irma P. Hall). As the film continues, we realise Dorr actually plans to tunnel under this house and rob a casino boat of all their takings. He has assembled a squad of various men with a certain talent. There’s demolition expert, Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmon), casino employee and inside man, Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans, in what is by far his best role), a professional tunneler known only as General (Tzi Ma) and a failed footballer named Lump (Ryan Hurst), who is along for the ride as the group’s muscle. Under the cover of practicing Renaissance music, the group slowly make their way to carrying out their robbery, but when their god fearing landlord discovers what they’re up to, things get complicated.

There are a few performances that save this film from being a debacle and actually make it really entertaining. Tom Hanks is clearly loving hamming it up as the gentlemanly professor with a sinister underbelly. He is always great so this is expected. Irma P. Hall is also good as the clueless home owner that has no idea her new tenant is up to something because he claims to be church going. J.K. Simmons is also great as the demolition man who has a habit of causing explosions when there shouldn’t be any. He also has one of the best screen names I can remember, Garth Pancake. It is such a silly name, but it sums up J.K.’s character so well. I must also say that Marlon Wayans is the best he has ever been as homeboy Gawain. I know the bar is low for him, but this is definitely his best role.

It was important to have these actors give good performances. The characters they play are not very likable, but because the performances are so good, you are still interested in the outcome of this movie. When they eventually get their comeuppance, it feels like it is worth sticking around for.

This is definitely a black comedy. Nearly every person in this movie is a deviant. What saves it is the strong performances from a solid cast, particularly Tom Hanks. I really liked Hanks in this role. I am so used to see him playing good guys with hearts of gold so it was nice to see him switch things up a bit and play a character who doesn’t have the best of intentions.

At the end of the day, nearly everyone involved in this film (except Marlon Wayans) has been much better. This is no Big Lebowski, but The Ladykillers is still an entertaining enough time.

Rating: B-

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