Box-Office Alternatives: Intolerable Cruelty


It's so rare to find a summer blockbuster that isn't based on a comic book or video game, that when one comes along, I'm immediately drawn to it. I'll admit that is my primary reason for wanting to check out Tomorrowland (2015), which stars George Clooney as a former boy genius who embarks on a quest to a fictional world where science and imagination know no bounds.

Tomorrowland also looks to give Clooney a role unlike any other he's taken on as a paranoid recluse with powerful secrets lurking inside his head. In honor of Tomorrowland's release, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite Clooney roles which, although unknown to many, remains loved by those who have seen it.

Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, Intolerable Cruelty (2003) stars Clooney as Miles Massey, Los Angeles' most cunning divorce attorney, who is able to make any cheating spouse in town look like the most innocent of victims. When he encounters the beautiful Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Miles' views on love, marriage and divorce change forever.

Though it's billed as a romantic comedy, Intolerable Cruelty can be seen as an anti-romantic comedy, given its cynical views on love and marriage. The film shows marriage as less of an institution and more as a wild jungle with no rules and its players as hungry animals. Miles is almost a guide in this scenario, herding the wildlife that are the unhappy spouses who populate the film. He is a suave shark, immune to the pitfalls of love which have invaded the very people he represents until he meets the equally cool Marilyn.

A goddess by design, Marilyn is a woman always a step ahead of the game, much like Miles. In each other, they find the ultimate opponent in the deadly sport of love. It's interesting to watch their interactions with each other and observe how enticed they are by one another in an ongoing emotional duel. Out of all the money-hungry and lovesick saps in the city, they recognize in each other the same ruthless instincts that has taken both of them years to perfect.

It helps that Clooney and Zeta-Jones exude the required amount of intoxicating chemistry required for such a couple and their movie star demeanors make us forget the fact that these are two heavily misguided characters.

It wouldn't sound all that funny, except for the fact that Intolerable Cruelty is actually quite hilarious. The courtroom scene where Miles gets the goods on Marilyn is a scream and solid supporting work by actors such as Billy Bob Thornton, Edward Hermann, Geoffrey Rush and Cedric the Entertainer help pile on the laughs. Though it must be said that it's Clooney who gives the most comedic performance here, playing a character who goes from blindly confident to hysterically pathetic. It takes a lot for a movie star to go against his debonair status and let himself look completely foolish on screen. Thankfully, Clooney has never been the average movie star.

Thanks to the popularity of its stars and some genuinely funny sequences, Intolerable Cruelty performed modestly at the box-office and brought back fairly decent reviews. Yet along with The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and The Ladykillers (2004), the film is one of those rare Coen Brothers titles that most fans of the filmmaking duo tend to pass over or simply ignore. The Coens have always been successful at painting their own universe within their films, which bear shades of reality but truly exist in a kind of otherworldly planet. With Intolerable Cruelty, they have crafted a world where although love is used as a weapon in ways seldom seen before, it still ultimately wins.

Where to watch: Intolerable Cruelty is currently available for online streaming via Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vudu. It's also on Blu-ray and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.