I sometimes find myself temporarily disarmed by a movie that is smart on the surface; less often, a film may simulate smartness so effectively that I go home thinking it was good, and only later realize that I’ve been hornswoggled. Joel and Ethan Coen fall between these two stools. I’ve seen most all of the Coen brothers’ movies, and in nearly every case I had the same sequence of mixed feelings, not after the fact but on the spot. First came a rush of something like relief, usually within the first minute or two: whatever else Blood Simple, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Fargo were, they weren’t stupid. Thus reassured, I relaxed and started to enjoy myself–but then second thoughts started to creep in, not about how smart the Coens were, but about the ends to which their smartness was being put….
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