1 STAR - DISTURBING
In a style that creates a caricature of every human being, the Coen brothers’ comedy, “The Ladykillers” is nevertheless disturbing. The murderous group of criminals portrayed shows such a blatant disregard for human life that their foul language pales in comparison. Void of any semblance of moral values, the only character within the film with integrity is the lady they set out to kill.
The ensemble gathered to create this vacuous group is led by Professor Goldthwait Higginson Dorr (Tom Hanks). The professor’s gang is a group of social and moral misfits who answered an ad in a paper and therefore have little history with one another, a fact that creates the vengeful conclusion to their caper.
The grieving widow of a prominent community leader happens to own a home yards away from the underground vault of a riverboat casino, the Bandit Queen. Noticing that she has a room for rent, the professor approaches Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall) and gains access to her basement by claiming that his gang is actually a “renaissance” musical group needing a place to practice. What he doesn’t realize is that Marva is protected by her faith in God and the memory of her departed husband. This sets the stage for the turn of events that eventually cause evil to lose and good to win, while virtually everyone dies except “the lady.”
Perhaps the most irreverent aspect of the film is the use of gospel music to set the mood for their criminal activity. In addition to church services in which the gospel music is rightfully placed, the film uses a gospel song about the crucifixion of Jesus while the General (Tzi Ma) prepares to strangle Marva. Though she is obviously protected by forces beyond any of the gang’s awareness, the juxtaposition of gospel and murder is more offensive than funny.
The lack of honor among the thieves of the film creates a predictable conclusion that could be seen as a moral ending. This is supported by the fact that the lady, Marva is not only not killed, but ends up being unknowingly given permission to give the money to her favorite charity, the “Bob Jones University,” a running joke within the film. This fulfills her generous desires, but leaves the film a caricature of itself.
There was so much more the Coen brothers could have woven into the film, such as using the Professor’s love for Edgar Allen Poe to parallel the lessons of his “Tell-tale Heart” with their crime or exploring the interplay between a riverboat casino in a black southern town, to have developed some depth in the story. However, the verbosity of the Professor is as empty as is the moral and spiritual messages of this film.
- The film uses the picture of Marva Munson’s husband to provide a guiding presence in her life. Do you believe that Marva’s husband watched over her or do you believe it was her faith in God that protected Marva?
- The lack of commitment to one another eventually caused the gang members to turn against each other. What do you believe would be necessary for a group of thieves to trust one another while they are being untrustworthy with society?
- Marva’s religious beliefs teach her to “smite” the cheek of Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans). Do you believe this is what God teaches? Why or why not?
- The argument of the professor that no one would be harmed to steal from a casino creates a moment of doubt in Marva’s mind. Do you believe that stealing from those who take advantage of others makes it moral?