Is The Gambit Remake a Coen Brothers Movie?

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 20 2012 1:15 PM

Is This a Coen Brothers Movie?

gambit
Colin Firth in the trailer for Gambit

In November, British moviegoers will get to see Gambit, a remake of the Michael Caine/Shirley MacLaine caper comedy from 1966. (Those of us in the United States will reportedly have to wait until next year some time.) The movie has an appealing cast—Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Cameron Diaz, Stanley Tucci—but the most intriguing contributors are its screenwriters: Joel and Ethan Coen.

Gambit is the first film since 1985’s Crimewave that has been written largely by the Coen Brothers and directed by someone else. (Ethan Coen helped write 1998’s The Naked Man, but Joel was not involved.) So is it a Coen Brothers movie?

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When I considered the Coens’ complete oeuvre for Slate, I didn’t address Crimewave—but I might have: That darkly comic tale of two bungling hitmen and the sad nerd wrongly busted  for murder has many hallmarks or their work. But then, Sam Raimi, who directed Crimewave, is a longtime Coens compadre who himself helped write the Coens’ Hudsucker Proxy. (Joel and Raimi even shared a brief scene in Spies Like Us.) Michael Hoffman, on the other hand, the director of Gambit, doesn’t appear as obviously simpatico in sensibility, and has not worked with the Coens in any capacity before, so far as I can tell. Plus, Gambit is, unlike Crimewave, a remake, perhaps further constraining the freedom of the Coens to make this a personal picture.

And yet … watching the trailer, one does notice some signature Coen features. A plot revolving around a briefcase full of money and the follies that ensue in the competition for it? Check. A rich old man barking out orders from behind a desk? Check. Debatably affectionate caricatures of American types with accompanying accent humor? Check. Plus the trailer home located somewhere in the American West recalls both Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men—and a quick glimpse of Rickman splatter-painting (1:40 in) suggests shades of Maude Lebowski.

But the visuals here look pretty pedestrian and the dialogue delivery lacks a certain zing. Even as an avowed Coen Brothers completist my interest in the movie is mild for the moment. I’ll still go see it, of course.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.

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