#131 Raising Arizona

(1987, Coen Brothers)

“Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things”

Nicolas Cage has earned himself a bit of a reputation for being a slightly “zany” actor. Many of his roles involve him shouting or just being a little bit off the rails. This came to a head in the so-bad-it’s-good remake of The Wicker Man, where he spent much of the movie shouting about things being burned and punching a woman in the face while wearing a bear suit (oh hey!).

So it’s no surprise to find that he actually had a genuine comedy on his CV once upon a time. Even more so, it was a Coen Brothers comedy. And based on my glowing review of Fargo, you’d expect me to like this. Well, let’s see.

Cage pays a criminal named H.I. who has a history of robbing convenience stores. During his multiple stints in prison, he gets to know and eventually falls in love with, Ed (Holly Hunter), the police officer who frequently assesses his case. Eventually they get married and H.I. decides his crime days are over. That is, until they discover that they are unable to conceive and no adoption agency will let them adopt children due to H.I.’s criminal past. So when local furniture salesman Nathan Arizona famously becomes a father to five, the couple decide to steal one of the babies. Hilarity ensues.

All the elements of your typical Coen comedy are here as you’d expect: Some kind of ludicrous crime, cartoon violence, silly regional accents, Frances McDormand in a role of some description and absurd, almost nonsensical, plot elements. However, it’s clear that this was definitely their early attempts at humour, since it honestly doesn’t work as well as their later movies The Big Lebowski and Fargo.

Oh, sure, it’s still funny. That’s hard to dispute. The scene where Nic Cage steals nappies from a convenience store and then somehow starts a car chase is just as hilarious as you’d expect, and it’s hard not to be amused by John Goodman and William Forsythe as a pair of fellow jail-breaking criminals who come to crash at Hi’s place.

But, somehow, it just doesn’t fit together as a single package as well as the later movies. Even Lebowski, with its millions of convoluted plot threads, felt a little more connected than this. The dream sequences always felt out of place, and the entire character of the creepy bounty hunter played by Randall “Tex” Cobb felt a little too weird and fantastical for what was otherwise a silly crime film about stealing babies.

As a result, the entire movie feels unfocused. There’s a strong concept here, but the Coens aren’t entirely sure what they want to achieve with it. Of course, judging by the rushed intro to the entire concept of the movie, maybe they did know but had technical restraints holding them back. There are times when I’d feel a little lost amongst the many things the Coens seemed to want to do. Initially I wasn’t sure where the couple’s friends came from, or why the bounty hunter seemed to step out of Hi’s dream and into reality. The ending was also attempting to give happy closure and a little morality, but the more sentimental tone jarred a little with the outright silliness that preceded it.

But it’s not a bad movie. As stated, it is fun, and the Coens’ trademark style is clearly on display, so it’s hard to fault it too much. But it’s hard to see why this was recommended over the critical and cult success that is Lebowski.

Starring Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Sam McMurray, Frances McDormand & Randall “Tex” Cobb
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen
Produced by Joel & Ethan Coen
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld
Edited by Michael R. Miller

Favourite Scene: H.I. decides to steal some Huggies. Of course.
Scene That Bugged Me: The ending got a little weird, with Hi’s dream and all.

Watch it if: You’re a Coen completionist
Avoid it if: You’ve yet to watch Lebowski

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Posted on October 31, 2012, in 1980s, Comedy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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