I’m going to say something that might be considered quite controversial in film circles: I’m just not that interested in Joel and Ethan Coen. *audible gasp*, I know. That’s not to say that I’ve not enjoyed their films in the past; No Country For Old Men is universally acclaimed for good reason, and I loved Fargo. But something about their movies just doesn’t get me excited about going back. Sure, almost all of their filmography is on my watchlist, but it takes me a while to be in the mood for one of their pictures. Honestly, the minuscule length of this one is what drew me to it (I wanted to leave some time in my day to play Spider-Man: Miles Morales… so sue me.)
In the end, I was actually pleasantly surprised! Raising Arizona tells the slapstick tale of a Southern couple made up of a policewoman and a recently released convict. When the pair learn that they will never be able to conceive naturally, they strike up a crazy plan to kidnap one of the ‘Arizona Quints’ after their birth makes the local news. They feel as though they’re ‘helping’ the parents of the baby by taking one of the children off their hands, but in the end, things come to a head when the baby is kidnapped once more and ends up in the hands of a couple of escaped prison inmates.
Is it just me, or is this Joel Coen movie very Wes Anderson in parts? There’s something stylistically going on here that seems so familiar. I wonder if Wes was inspired by this one?
What I like most about Raising Arizona is that it doesn’t fuck around. The writing is sharp, snappy, and it throws you straight in. The background story is speedily told and boom, we’re off. I was invested immediately, no questions asked. Somehow too, the Coen Brothers force you to care about these characters, even though you probably shouldn’t be rooting for them. The Kings of Quirk? You bet.
Not only does the film’s fast pace leave little room for boredom, but the story itself is simple and uncomplicated. Sometimes simplicity of narrative is what makes a movie so endearing, and while this is only the Coens’ second full feature length movie, their style is already fully on display for all to see. One of the highlights here for me was the camerawork; shooting from the ground to give us a child’s eye view for example was really interesting and creative. I strongly believe that the world had never seen anything quite like this before 1987, and Raising Arizona therefore gives the brothers their pioneer status.
What makes this movie so memorable, however? Some of the most appropriate, perfect casting I’ve ever witnessed. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter are pure perfection in the lead roles, and Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand are comedy gold as their over-the-top cameo pals. Hunter comes out on top for me though, as this performance only made me want to seek out her other movies even more.
Overall this is such a strong early Coen Brothers movie that it’s highly likely I’d choose to rewatch it over some of their other more highly acclaimed stuff. And the banjo-laden chase scene? Technically brilliant screwball comedy filmmaking. Highly recommended.
Raising Arizona is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.
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Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½