The Coen Brothers (or the Co-Bros, if you will) are undoubtedly the most famous and successful directing duos ever to exist. Their films are tonally unique and incomparable to the work of any other living filmmakers and have a struck a chord with many different types of audiences. Cat and mouse thriller No Country for Old Men (2007) and dark comedy crime film Fargo (1996) were both critical and commercial juggernauts whilst films like The Big Lebowski (1998) and A Serious Man (2009) have become cult favourites over the years. The simple stories are flourished with layered plot twists and pithy dialogue that can arrest the attention of even the most passive cinema-goer.
Joel and Ethan were born and raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota to their art historian mother and economist father. Joel has posited that there is “no doubt” that his family’s Jewish heritage affects the way that he and his brother see things and approach their film-making. As children, the brothers, who are three years apart in age, would remake films that they saw on television with Joel’s Vivitar Super 8 camera and have their friends star in them but their career in the industry began in the early 80s. The brothers wrote and directed Blood Simple (1984), a neo-noir crime film that tells the tale of a sleazy bar owner who hires a private detective to kill his wife and lover. Blood Simple made waves on the independent film awards circuit and introduced audiences to their directing style and sensibility that includes dark humour and paying homage to genre movies.
Although the duo initially wrote the role of Abby in Blood Simple for Holly Hunter (who would later go on to star in Raising Arizona), the actress was already committed to another project and recommended her then – roommate for the part. That roommate was Frances McDormand. She auditioned for the Coen’s and they were charmed by her “guileless” nature, ultimately casting McDormnad in the role. She and Joel fell in love and married a year later. McDormand and the Coen’s have since gone on to collaborate on six feature films, most memorably Fargo, where the actress played Marge Gunderson, the heavily pregnant and resilient chief of police. Marge doesn’t appear until 30+ minutes in the 98-minute movie but her astounding work garnered her the Best Actress Oscar and the Coen’s a win in the Best Original Screenplay category. Arguably bias but nonetheless echoing the sentiments of many other actors who have had the good fortune to work with the Coen’s, McDormand stated, “That’s what’s so f*cking hard about working with Joel and Ethan. It’s so satisfying, its so complete, it’s really hard not to judge whatever you do after in the same way.”
Not content with being celebrated cinematic master, The Coen’s are currently working on a six-part Netflix series title The Ballad of Buster Scruggs to be released later this year. The Western anthology series will star Blake Nelson, who has appeared in O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000). Netflix’s vice-president Cindy Holland issued an excitable statement, “The Coen’s are visionary directors, masterful storytellers, and colourful linguists. We are thrilled for Netflix to become home to the full range of their talents.” That makes two of us.
- Raising Arizona (1987)
- Fargo (1996)
- The Big Lebowski (1998)
- No Country for Old Men (2007)
- True Grit (2010)
- Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
By Evie Brudenall