Raising Arizona (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1987)

Coming right after Blood Simple, I’m quite impressed that the Coen’s more visceral and comedic instincts were so well defined so early. The Coens tend to bend the rules of comedy and drama nowadays, blending the two types into something all together theirs. Raising Arizona plays more specifically to their comedic sensibilities, ala The Big Lebowski or Burn After Reading. I’m not the biggest fan of their straightforward comedic output, and such is the case, I’m not all too high on Raising Arizona. Nevertheless, I still found plenty to enjoy in Raising Arizona’s formal arrangements.

Cage tones down the crazy somewhat, playing lead character H.I. McDonnough – a reformed convict who falls for a police officer known as Ed (Holly Hunter). The Coens wisely open Raising Arizona with a prologue narrated entirely by Hi. What it serves to do is immerse the viewer in the dialect of its characters, which was bound to defy audience expectations at the time. The film’s premise is established quickly and effectively through the prologue – after marrying, Hi and Ed lead a lifestyle that approaches something of the suburban dream. But turmoil arises when that dream cannot be fully achieved (Ed is not capable of having children and they cannot adopt because of Hi’s criminal record) –the notion of kidnapping a child is a sound solution to their problem.

Intentional or not, the Coens effectively satirize traditional American-dream notions while instilling a sense of other-worldliness. Their recurring theme of justice being served, of the irony of law, fit in organically throughout Raising Arizona’s narrative. It is very much a “Coen” film through its ideas, but if there’s one thing Raising Arizona lacks is the Coen’s visual sense. The visual palette is more reminiscent of Tim Burton, but progressively, the Coens were able to get their visual flair established as well.