Just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1958, the camera glides above Manhattan, closing in on a skyscraper’s top floor, where young Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) has climbed out on a ledge. As he considers the next few seconds of his life, the camera swings over to the building’s gigantic clock and catches the second hand sweeping up to join the hour and minute hands at midnight. Would any other modern filmmakers have the craft and cojones to dream up this perfect scene-setter and bring it off with such elegance?
The rest of Hudsucker — the only Coen film to have a big budget — is a flashback showing how Norville’s life goes round in circles: from the invention of the Hula Hoop, etched as a circle on a piece of paper (15-minute mark), to considering suicide next to the big clock. Many critics found the film skimpy on the human elements. Okay, then, go watch Cinema Paradiso again. If this magnificently designed epic is a mere museum of plots and characters from the Hollywood 30s, what’s the problem? It’s a Louvre of corporate chicanery and screwball comedy.
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