>"Raising Arizona" (1987)

>Starting today, as part of the blog I will try to publish a short review of every movie I see.  There’s a lot of movies out there I’ve always meant to get around seeing, but keep putting off for one reason or another.  Time to put that Netflix cue to good use.

Raising Arizona follows a revolving-door inmate, H.I. “Hi” McDonnough (Nicholas Cage), who marries the policewoman (Holly Hunter) tasked with taking his mugshot at the onset of his every stint in the slammer.  H.I. gives up his old ways to be with his new love, and things are good until the couple discovers they can’t have children.  So…they steal one.  See, the Nadiya Suleman of 1987 Arizona is all over the papers, and the couple figure some folks just have too much of a good thing, while others have none.  When the enterprising father of the missing youngster discovers one of his infants missing, he places a $25,000 reward on the baby for a safe return.  Needless to say, hilarity ensues and everybody learns a lesson about the meaning of love.

I can’t recall exactly why this one had been on my list so long.  I think it’s because I’ve really enjoyed every Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen, so I’ve meant to go back to the beginning and catch up on their whole oeuvre.  Raising Arizona was leagues apart from what I thought it would be.  I didn’t realize how “broad” it was.  Lots of backwood hick characters and goofy humor.  A far cry from the subversive, Gen-X sensibilities of The Big Lebowski or the biting satire of Burn After Reading, Arizona‘s particular brand of laughs is more Farrelly Brothers than Coen Brothers.
Pictured: The wild Cage-creature in its natural habitat

Still, their undeniable talent as a writer/director team elevates the movie above what it might have otherwise been.  The film comes to life whenever The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse is featured.  Initially a component of H.I.’s daydreams, the Biker–looking like he just burned down Thunderdome–tears through the southwest on a hell-stallion bike outfitted with grenades and an assortment of knives.  This way in which this strange figure intersects with the plot at large, other characters in the story, and ultimately with H.I. himself, makes us question the reality of the movie’s world, and the reliability of the narrator up to this point.
In particular, one quick and ambiguous revelation near the film’s climax may speak volumes about what the character is supposed to represent in the mind of H.I.  Deeper critical readings aside, the biker figure’s scenes are always the most inventively shot, giving the writer/directors a chance to stage some elaborate fight choreography and spaghetti-West camerawork.
The actors portray their respective characters with plenty of gusto, particularly Cage’s repentant, sad-dog crook and Hunter’s heart-meltingly doe-eyed wannabe momma.  Still, I feel the film would have been stronger had the directors sought to highlight the more earthy, meaningful qualities of the underlying story by directing the performances to be a little more…nuanced, I suppose?  I just know that an hour and a half of The Flagstaff Hillbillies started to wear a little thin on me.
All in all, it’s worth a view, for sure.  The film picks up around the halfway mark, once all the teams’ motivations have been established and the film’s MacGuffin is firmly in play.  But it’s definitely a  sophomore effort that pales in comparison to their diverse body of work that was yet to come.

About Gary

Gary Iacobucci is the founder of Modern Mythos Media, a narrative arts label exploring web cinema and more, and LA Revivalist. He has worked with small businesses, independent filmmakers, and performance collectives to help bring their artistic and professional visions to life. Tweet him @garyiacobucci.

Posted on May 6, 2010, in Film, Movie Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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