The Coen Brothers | reDiscover

With unmistakable wit and style, these fraternal filmmakers and their genre-bounding talents welcome you into an America all of their own.

The Picturehouse Team

12 Apr 24


Blood Simple
From 20 April | Book Now

Raising Arizona
From 26 April | Book Now

From 03 May | Book Now

The Big Lebowski
From 10 May | Book Now

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
From 17 May | Book Now

No Country for Old Men
From 24 May | Book Now

True Grit
From 31 May | Book Now

Inside Llewyn Davis
From 07 June | Book Now



Written, edited, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen as first-time filmmakers, Blood Simple celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2024. Remarkably taut and razor-sharp, the film would also introduce Frances McDormand in her screen debut and features an excellent M. Emmet Walsh as a slippery private eye. When a jealous husband (Dan Hedaya) discovers his wife (McDormand) is having an affair with one of his employees, he hires a private investigator (Walsh) to kill the couple. The botched kidnappings and violent conflicts that would also seep into the Coens' later works swiftly follow, leaving a bloody trail of bodies across Texas. 

Tightly scripted and soaked in neon-drenched style, Blood Simple deftly blends elements of low-budget horror and pulp fiction to reinvent the film noir for a new generation, marking the arrival of a filmmaking partnership that would transform American independent cinema.

– Rose Butler, Film Programmer


A crazy-haired, fresh-faced, Southern criminal Nicolas Cage struggling to steal one of five babies already secures this film as a masterclass in screwball comedy, but Raising Arizona is also the Coens' film with the most heart – a weirdly touching, touchingly weird love story between Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter, one that explores second chances and learning to cope with the harshness of life (Holly Hunter sobbing is never not cinematic!). I will now lay down my case as to why Joel and Ethan's second feature is the ultimate Coen cult classic. 

For me, the reason why the Coens' films are so incredible is the way they master three things: their characters' distinct voices, their choreographed set pieces, and their visual framing. Take those things and add Cartell Burwell's caffeinated banjo-flicking, yelping and yodelling score, Barry Sonnenfeld's crazy cinematography, and some genuinely exhilarating action set pieces, and Raising Arizona is born. No, I still don't understand the 'Lone Biker of the Apocalypse', Leonard Smalls. Yes, this film is still a masterpiece. The prosecution rests.

– Freyja Pakarinen, Senior Programmer

FARGO (1996)

In their homespun murder story set against the snowy Midwest, a pregnant police chief (Frances McDormand) investigates a triple homicide after a frantic care salesman hires two criminals to kidnap his wife and extort a ransom from her wealthy father. One of the Coens' best-regarded films, Fargo would earn McDormand her first Best Actress Academy Award and would see Joel Coen awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996.

The film skilfully balances gruesome violence and black humour, delivered by a stellar cast including Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as the bungling criminals for hire, and William H. Macy as the desperately pathetic husband out to make some cash. Frequently cited as one of the best films of the 1990s, and named as one of the 100 Greatest American films in history, Fargo would be adapted into a successful TV series in 2014.

– Rose Butler, Film Programmer


A loose homage to Chandlerian noir like the title-inspiring The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski is, in Joel Coen's words, "a hopelessly complex plot that's ultimately unimportant". Many trademark Coen idiosyncrasies are on full display in this labyrinthine quest for nothing in particular, studded with cameos and bizarre dream sequences, careering aimlessly and dustily across Los Angeles like the rambling tumbleweed that opens the film. Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is a shaggy, ageing hippy, typically found smoking weed or at the lanes with his bowling pals (John Goodman, Steve Buscemi). But a case of mistaken identity - and the desecration of his favourite rug - sends the three in search of restitution, ransom money, and a billionaire's kidnapped wife. You gotta understand: that rug really tied the room together.

Lebowski's pithy, violent, enigmatic wandering is ultimately rooted in the delights of character, from Bridges' iconic and perpetually unconcerned Dude to the cast of personalities we meet along the way. Plus, with frequent collaborator Roger Deakins behind the camera and a perfectly tuned soundtrack, there's plenty of reason to settle in and enjoy the ride – ideally with a White Russian in hand.

– Lucy Fenwick Elliott, Digital Marketing Assistant


In 2000, George Clooney was at peak heartthrob status. Hot off the heels of Out of Sight, Three Kings, and his era-defining role on E.R., his leading role in O Brother, Where Art Thou? as a chain gang escapee/lover of Dapper Dan pomade was the kind of Hollywood left turn where classics are born. And as classics go, this one went to the source: based rather loosely on Homer's 'The Odyssey', set in pre-war Mississippi instead of post-Trojan war Greece, Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill voyages home to be with his wife Penelope (Holly Hunter), with the likes of the Cyclops, the Sirens, and Penny's suitors getting in the way.

The Coens claim they hadn't read 'The Odyssey' before making this, basing it on what had seeped into popular culture. But presumably, the pair had seen Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels: 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' is the name of the book Joel McCrea's embittered director, known for his superficial comedies, wants to adapt into a socially conscious saga. No such pretence here – the Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou? is deliciously ridiculous, from the digitally-enhanced sepia colours to the iconic Soggy Bottom Boys songs, and the most ridiculous Ku Klux Klan rally you'll ever see on screen.

– Simon Ragoonanan, Digital Marketing Manager


A powerful extension of the themes of pessimism and nihilism explored in both Blood Simple and Fargo, No Country For Old Men is an expertly realised neo-Western, set in the dusty desert landscape of West Texas in the 1980s. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel of the same name, it follows three main characters: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam veteran who stumbles across a large sum of money in the desert; Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) a relentless hitman sent to recover the money; and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a local sheriff investigating the crime. 

Contrasting the old Wild West with contemporary crime, the film is a technical feat: beautifully shot by frequent collaborator Roger Deakins and with an incredible soundscape and score from Carter Burwell. Reminiscent of Westerns from Peckinpah and Mann, No Country For Old Men is one of only four Westerns to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, and is widely considered to be the Coens' masterpiece.

– Rose Butler, Film Programmer

TRUE GRIT (2010)

There is no genre more defining to Hollywood than the Western. Cinematic imagery of sprawling plains, stand-offs at dawn, and damsels clinging onto the backs of dashing cowboys is ingrained into collective audience memory, yet when the Coen brothers took to a remake of a John Wayne classic – in turn an adaptation of a 1968 serial – they eschewed any of the genre's traditional visuals for something all the more sombre. True Grit may be one of the best examples of the neo-Westerns that emerged in the late 2000s and 2010s, likely in response to the financial crisis and a growing disillusionment with the American Dream. 

Finding comrades in other adaptations and remakes like James Mangold's 3:10 To Yuma or Andrew Dominick's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, True Grit is a dark, yet darkly humorous, piece about the inevitable hollowness of the moral journeys laid out by archetypes like John Wayne's various cowboys. Every character is set in their way from their introduction and learns little throughout, beyond how nihilistic the great West can be. The transforming nature of the West and the new starts it offers are laid bare as a lie, as the Coens led the way for other modern classics of the neo-Western like Killers of the Flower Moon – despite being snubbed in all ten of its categories at the Academy Awards that year. 

– Issy Macleod, Film Programmer


Anyone familiar with creative life can understand the drudgery of transforming your art into the thing that pays your bills. Inside Llewyn Davis uses this dilemma to anchor its story of a richly recreated '60s New York, where the eponymous Llewyn (a revelatory Oscar Isaac) might just succeed as a folk musician if he wasn't so intent on alienating everybody around him. Llewyn is an embittered, albeit talented, open wound – the death of his musical partner and best friend looms large – and in striking out as a solo act finds he's cursed to eternally remain inches away from making it. As F. Murray Abraham's record producer tells him, there's not a lot of money to be made in such doleful strains.

But it's not all as bleak as New York winter: the Coens' blackly comic streak transforms Llewyn's Odyssean quest through Greenwich Village in search of a break (or at least a couch to sleep on) into a transportive, gorgeously melancholy story, peppered with beautifully orchestrated music and pulled along by the whims of a fugitive ginger tabby. Plus, Llewyn booking a gig as a studio musician on 'Please, Mr. Kennedy' – a Space Race parody song performed alongside Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver, no less! – provides one of the funniest, catchiest musical interludes of Joel and Ethan's filmography.

– Lara Peters, Content Editor

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