Walking into the theater, I was half-expecting to hate the Coen brothers' latest film, A Serious Man. The film has received some widely mixed reviews, which have ranged from ecstatic to eviscerating. The negative reviews have highlighted the increasing bleakness of the Coens' films. The criticism is undoubtedly true. To use a popular modern idiom, A Serious Man can be described as suffer porn. The film's protagonist, physics professor Larry Gopnik (the incredible Michael Stuhlbarg), a modern Job, is put through the metaphysical ringer, over and over again. And we are left to helplessly watch his life spin out of control.
I don't know what it says about me, but I loved the movie. Mostly because the Coens have honed their skills so well. Despite the utter blackness of this black comedy, it was still very funny. The performances are all fabulous, though the cast is largely comprised of unknowns (the only name I recognized beforehand was Fyvush Finkel).
Fargo remains my all-time favorite movie, and A Serious Man nears its greatness, as did No Country for Old Men. Yes, all three are dark. But they contain a warmth in their lead performances. Frances McDormand, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tommy Lee Jones all save their respective films from falling into an existential void. I don't see the Coen brothers as jaded nihilists, but as merry pranksters who are very, very good at what they do.