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Raising Arizona (1987)

May 12, 2010

9/10 Eager Parents

Right up there with The Big Lebowski.

Raising Arizona is about a recovering small-time crook in AZ who marries one of the cops at the prison he keeps getting sent back to and eventually takes her hand in marriage. So our conman tries to get his life back on track while working to have a kid with his super-anxious wife, but then they find out she’s barren and our happy couple decides to kidnap a newborn quintuplet from Arizona’s version of Donald Trump and raise him as their own since no one will let them adopt. What starts out as a strangely justifiable scheme with the best of intentions quickly turns into a world of trouble for these two country bumpkins who just want to a family of their own without bounty hunters and ex-cons raining on their parade.

It’s the first comedy by the Coen brothers, it’s the second movie they ever made, and even after not having seen it in a decade or so, it’s as good as it’s ever been.

As unreal as these guys are at making some of the best serious movies out there, no one does dry, dark humor like the Coens. I could see other people try to make this story into something funny and wind up turning it into B-grade trash, but that’s just their m.o., like turning a guy with a bowl cut into a cold-blooded killer. The thing is, it’s not just one strong element that makes this movie work, this is the rare concoction of a great script with hilarious characters that have hilarious dialogue that’s delivered with perfect timing as they all get into one hilarious and insane scenario after another that the Coens pull off without batting an eye.

Throw in an awesome cast and film it like the pros they are, and you’ve got yourself an easy 9.

Now, I can’t say that I remember all too many of Holly Hunter’s movies, but she’s out of sight as our upstanding new mom, Ed, and so is Nic Cage as our new dad with a penchant for five finger discounts, H.I. Yup, that’s no typo, I just paid Nic Cage a compliment, even went so far as to call him “out of sight”. The first sign of the apocalypse has officially arrived. But with the exception of his turn in Adaptation, he’s spot-on as H.I., it’s one of the two times in his career that he does the opposite of make my blood boil and as much I hate the taste of my own foot, credit is due where credit’s deserved.

H.I. really is the man though. I love H.I., I love his name, he’s a fantastic main character and it’s so damn refreshing to see Nic play a mild-mannered individual for once. So enjoy all the positivity, Nic, you done good and thanks for using your inside voice.

We’ve also got John Goodman as a freeloading escaped convict (Goodman + Coens = comic gold, it’s a foolproof formula) a choice cameo by Frances McDormand and Randall “Tex” Cobb as a badass bounty hunter straight off the set of The Road Warrior.

The whole gang is fantastic in their respective roles and they’ve got fantastic characters to work with. I like when ordinary, endearing folks get put at the forefront of a totally wacko story like this, it makes them seem extraordinary to a certain degree and it just makes the whole thing that much easier to get caught up in. It plays out like a thriller but the characters always maintain a sense of cool even when shit gets really crazy, and that’s nothing new for the Coens, and that’s why I dig it.

Raising Arizona also has one of the best intro sequences I’ve ever seen that takes off like a supercharged General Lee in its first ten minutes, and while it doesn’t quite keep that rapid-fire momentum up for the rest of the running time, it’s the only minor complaint I could come up with.

It’s been a good while since the Coens have been so insanely funny like they are here, but this really does belong in the same canon as Lebowski and Fargo, and that’s saying something. Even in 700+ words I still feel like I haven’t scratched the surface as to why this movie is so good without me rattling off all the classic scenes that are putting a big old grin on my face as I write this, but trust me, you gotta see it. Raising Arizona‘s just a flat-out funny movie with a fun, heartfelt story that, like all great Coen brothers movies, only gets better and funnier with subsequent viewings.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2010 4:07 am

    Man, I told you the Cage isn’t all bad!!!!! :-p

    Still genuinely can’t believe you paid him a complement there…

    Haven’t seen this in donkey’s years but still remember it being amazing. I also love the shit out of Fargo (Ya?) and Burn After Reading (Your shit is secure). They’ve probably got one of the best track records of any director(s) out there right now. Awesome pair, loads of awesome films.

    Sweet review dude, will have to dig this out sometime soon.

  2. May 12, 2010 7:12 am

    Hahha I love this movie!! It is so very very funny, and the energy that this film has is unbelievable, especially when you think that this was directed by the same dudes who did No Country for Old Men. Great review for a total classic!

  3. May 12, 2010 8:56 am

    I actually watched this for the first time last fall. While I was somewhat surprised at just how much I loved it, I was also amused at how well it compliments The Coens’ latest film A SERIOUS MAN (Hell – the prison councelor even makes a return appearance as Sy Ableman!).

    Great piece on a cult classic!

  4. May 12, 2010 11:33 am

    your opening line says it all, it is just as good as the Coens’ more-celebrated classic
    start to finish fun fest.
    hold on Nathan Jr, were gonna pick up Daddy

  5. May 12, 2010 7:05 pm

    What a great movie! And that yodeling pete seeger tune when he’s robbing diapers! Classic stuff. Kindof an odd film too. Nothing like it really. It’s just Coen style.

    • May 12, 2010 9:47 pm

      hahaha, I LOVE that song! Forgot to add that to review, but that definitely helped bring it up from an 8 to a 9.

  6. May 12, 2010 10:38 pm

    I absolutely hated this film. So much. I watched it for the first time last fall as well, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Big Lebowski at first, so I’m determined to give RA another try.

    • May 13, 2010 7:28 am

      Same here with Lebowski, but now it’s a top ten comedy. Give it another shot, it’s worth it.

  7. May 13, 2010 12:47 pm

    Better than The Big Lebowski. Yea, you read that right. For me, this is one of my all time favorite comedies and one of the very best Coen brothers films.

    • May 13, 2010 1:03 pm

      I can dig that.

    • May 14, 2010 12:09 am

      Can’t agree whole-heartedly, but appreciate that there are others who love Raising Arizona this much.

  8. Branden permalink
    May 24, 2010 5:57 pm

    You are my new best friend. I’m glad that you enjoed this movie. It is batshit crazy that I love it.


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