Perhaps take my opinion with a grain of salt, as I have seen less than half of the Coens’ filmography and never seen the acclaimed 1955 original, but I found more to like than dislike in The Ladykillers. It’s certainly a flawed, lumpy movie with some genuinely horrible bits, but its core performances, visual style, and goofy doomed heist are decent dark comic fun.
Let’s start with the dire: Marlon Wayans as Gawain is one of the most repellant characters I can recall watching in a movie in years. He’s a horribly racist caricature who is neither clever nor funny. The Coens attempt that old trick of lampshading their racist jokes, as if the wink makes it funnier and removes the tastelessness. It almost never works, and it certainly doesn’t work here. We know the Coens can lean into and reclaim stereotypes by making them into deep characters (see: Marge Gunderson in Fargo) but they’re in over their heads here.
Similarly, the jokes at the expense of southern Black churches mostly land with a miss, but at least Irma P. Hall is incredible as Ms. Munson, and the film has some affection for her traditional mindset.
Speaking of great performances, Tom Hanks is absolutely terrific as the mastermind of the heist, centering the film’s tone and capturing all of the Coens’ preoccupation with dialect in perfect, smarmy delivery. It’s such a fun, colorful performance that frankly outstrips anything else in the movie.
The heist story moves quickly enough; we never linger on any one beat too painfully long, and the somber gothic look (occasionally blended with cheap plastic rural sleaze) holds it all together reasonably well.
So while parts of it are aggressively unfunny — poor JK Simmons is stuck making a “shit-my-pants” face as a punchline at least three times — it’s got just enough charm to be worth a watch.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.