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The Human Element

Intolerable Cruelty
Produced by Alphaville Films and Imagine Entertainment  
Written and Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Distributed by Universal Pictures

Lost in Translation
Produced by American Zoetrope and Elemental Films
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola
Distributed by Focus Features

Intolerable Cruelty should by prosecuted for intolerable smugness, the besetting sin of its authors, the filmmaking brothers Ethan and Joel Coen.  Venial in the past, their high-handed self-satisfaction has turned mortal here, curdling what should have been a creamy evocation of the screwball comedies Hollywood produced so reliably in the 1940’s. 

The story begins as a promising send-up of America’s eighth sacrament, divorce, and the priests who administer it, the order of “matrimonial” attorneys.  George Clooney plays Miles Massey, divorce lawyer to the rich and vile.  We first meet him at his dentist’s office, having his teeth whitened as he conducts business on his cell phone.  With dental gauze covering his face, we see little more than his choppers exercising themselves in the glare of ultraviolet light.  He is visually reduced to what he has made of himself: a mouthpiece of insufferable smarminess.  In the following scene, we find him in his own office...

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