After thinking that the Coens couldn't get any more oblique and confounding in their movies, along comes A Serious Man, a grim dramedy about one man's struggle to keep faith when his whole life is coming apart at the seams.
Don't misunderstand my opening remarks, because oblique and confounding is a good thing when done by the Coens, arguably the two best screenwriters in the business. Their story is not quite as engrossing as most of their other works, but it is one of the most thought-provoking and philosophical ones of their career. It is also one of their most personal projects, drawing upon their own experiences growing up in a Midwestern Jewish household. It poses questions about theology, ponders the presence of God, and the meaninglessness of life. As one might surmise from their outstanding trailer , the Coens are excellent at conveying the repetitiousness of their characters' existences, which is indeed, another prevalent thematic point in the film.
The cast is one of the year's greatest, a terrific assortment of mostly unknown character actors who all manage to get laughs by simply playing their parts perfectly. At the head is Michael Stuhlbarg, a physics professor who's never done anything wrong, and fails to grasp why such bad things should be happening to him. It is a finely-tuned comic turn without which the film would not have worked.
Behind the cameras it is a neatly produced film. Roger Deakins' photography is A+ material, as always, and special mention must be given to Nancy Haigh for her meticulously detailed set decoration.
This is one of those films just on the cusp of Oscar. The Original Screenplay nomination is the safest bet. It's good enough for a Best Picture nomination (especially in a field of ten), and a nod for Art Direction also seems plausible, but I'm not taking those for granted just yet.
*** out of ****