Three cons (George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) are on the lam in ’30s Mississippi. A blind prophet intones, “You shall see a cow on top of a cotton bale, and many other startlements.” Startlements are indeed in store: a one-eyed, toad-squishing salesman (John Goodman); three maidens washing their laundry in a stream; and the improbable stardom of the convicts as the ZZ Top-bearded, country-singin’ Foggy Bottom Boys (the popular tune “Man of Constant Sorrow” is found at the 85-minute mark).
This time the Coens raided not only Homer’s Odyssey but Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (for the movie’s title) and MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (for a delirious production number starring the Ku Klux Klan). Toss in a funny-sexy turn by Clooney (whose charisma, comic timing and self-deprecation are made for the Coens) and enough gorgeous bluegrass music to have made the movie’s CD a platinum-seller, and you have prime, picaresque entertainment. O Brother celebrates the chicanery of the human spirit, the love of raillery and rodomontade. But don’t ask us for reasons; we just liked it.