Jackson Ball selects his five essential Coen brothers characters…
As a couple of the most admired and adored filmmakers around today, there is always a lot of interest in the films of Ethan and Joel Coen. Their movies are always different, but there are certain aspects we have come to expect from the Oscar-winning duo. Coen Brothers trademarks include snappy dialogue, quirky plots and, most strikingly, memorable characters.
The finest filmmakers saturate their characters with life, making them fascinating and believable in equal measures. This meticulous process enables the audience to almost ‘forget’ they are merely works of fiction. This is never truer than in the Coen Brothers’ films, with a seemingly endless catalogue of unforgettable characters.
Here’s my top five…
5. Barton Fink, ‘Barton Fink’ (1991)
Early in their careers (and for much time afterwards) the Coens were often considered Hollywood outsiders. Their films never slotted neatly into Hollywood pigeon-holes and they always seemed out of place when surrounded by their counterparts. This alienation is embodied by outcast writer Barton Fink, played by John Turturro. The title character faces the typically idiosyncratic tribulations you’d expect from the Coens, but this time with a slight biographical twist.
4. H.I. McDunnough, ‘Raising Arizona’ (1987)
Sporting a moustache as on Nicolas Cage can, Herbert I. McDunnough is everyone’s favourite baby thief. It really is a credit to both the filmmakers and Cage that McDunnough has such an ‘everyman’ likability to him, given that his situation couldn’t be less ‘everyman’. After a career in petty crime and stealing a famous baby, he goes on the run from a deranged biker… hardly a common problem for the modern man.
3. Anton Chigurh, ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)
In 2007, the Coens proved they could write a truly terrifying villain: Anton Chigurh, the mysterious and brutal contract killer. Armed with a hydraulic cow-prodder and a bad haircut, Chigurh staggers through the film like a gruff-voiced terminator. The role quite rightly earned Javier Bardem a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Who can forget his haunting delivery of that famous line, ‘What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?’… Simply chilling.
2. Marge Gunderson, ‘Fargo’ (1996)
A unique mix of classic noir detective and everyday soccer mom, Police Chief Gunderson is a classic Coen Brothers creation. Brought to life by Frances McDormand (Joel Coen’s real life spouse), the actress’ Academy Award-winning performance is what really makes Marge live long in the memory. With her matter-of-fact humour and overwhelming politeness, Marge may just be the funniest mum-to-be ever committed to film.
1. The Dude, ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998)
To quote Sam Elliot’s narrator, “Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude.” Well, The Dude also fits right in the top of this list. Jeff Bridges impossibly-cool deadbeat wandered onto our screens in the late 90’s and became instantly memorable and beloved. He embodies all the quirkiness we love from the Coen Brother’s: from his love of White Russians, to his endless quest for a rug that “really ties the room together”. It would appear that films and characters come and go… but The Dude abides.
Agree? Disagree? As always we’d love to hear your comments.
Jackson Ball – follow me on Twitter.