Raising Arizona

Movie Information

The Wedge Brewery starts their 2014 outdoor movie series — this year almost entirely devoted to the Coen Brothers — on Saturday, May 10 with the Coens'  immensely popular Raising Arizona starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter. Whatever else the film is or isn't, Raising Arizona boasts a frantic pace and nonstop cinematic invention from the Coens. UPDATE: Tonight’s showing (May 10) has been called on account of rain. The make-up date is next Sat., May 17.  
Genre: Comedy
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman, Trey Wilson, Randall "Tex" Cobb
Rated: PG-13




From the 2004 review: This is the movie that put the Coen Brothers on the map, expanding their popularity far beyond the cult level of their first effort, Blood Simple. As such, Raising Arizona is certainly of interest as an early document of two of the most intriguing filmmakers working today. As a stand-alone film, however, I’m sticking to my one-line assessment on the Rotten Tomatoes website: “Movies like this are why the Coens are uneven.” Uneven though Joel and Ethan Coen may be as filmmakers, boring and uninteresting they most certainly are not. Despite the fact that I’d place this broadly played comedy in the same “nice try” category with their The Big Lebowski — cautioning the brothers that there’s such a thing as being too concerned with being hip — I’d never call Raising Arizona dull.




The wild story line is in itself pretty clever: Former petty criminal H.I. McDonnough (Nicolas Cage) kidnaps one of the “Arizona quints” — five children born to unpainted-furniture magnate Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson) — to provide H.I.’s “barren” wife, Edwina (Holly Hunter), with a much-wanted child. And much of what takes place between the couple concerning the kidnapped infant is a savvy commentary on what might be called “baby mania.” The problem with the film lies for me in the too-broad comedy of the supporting characters — especially prison escapees Gale (John Goodman) and Evelle (William Forstythe); much of this material is protracted and played with somewhat less subtlety than scenes by the Three Stooges. When I first saw Raising Arizona, in fact, I was ready to write off the Coens as more clever than good, and almost didn’t bother seeing their next film, the brilliant Miller’s Crossing, as a result.




After re-watching Raising Arizona for this review, I still find the film to be about equal parts amusing and annoying and too concerned with its own cleverness. Still, I also find it an endlessly fascinating repository of nearly everything that makes the Coens, at their best, among the finest filmmakers of our time. The quirkiness is there. The extreme cinematic invention. The off-center comedy. The ersatz Preston Sturges dialogue, where people express themselves in deliciously convoluted ways. The problem is that at this point in their career, the Coens hadn’t figured out how to bring it all together to form a unified whole. At their best — Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and, yes, The Ladykillers — the brothers fuse these elements into a single, solid vision. With Raising Arizona, we have all the pieces, but they don’t quite fit together. Still, the film is lively, it’s frequently funny and it’s always creative — all reasons to pay it another visit.

Wedge Brewery will show Raising Arizona on Saturday, May 10. Films start 15 minutes after sundown. They are shown outside. There will be a limited number of chairs, so it’s a good idea to pack a folding chair or a blanket and maybe a jacket because it does get chilly when the sun goes down. El Kimchi has great Mexican/Korean street food for purchase but no popcorn! So, if popcorn is part of someone’s movie experience, they’ll need to pack that, too.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “Raising Arizona

  1. Ken Hanke

    Well, they are considered “comedy classics,” which doesn’t mean I am duty-bound to agree. Plus, the term is largely meaningless these days. I mean, seriously, is ANIMAL HOUSE a “comedy classic” in the same sense that CITY LIGHTS and DUCK SOUP are? Not in my world.

  2. Ken Hanke

    You’re missing the point. Just because a label like “comedy classic” gets slapped on something doesn’t make it true. The word classic has lost all meaning the way it gets tossed around. I suspect the internet is largely responsible.

    • Justin Souther

      You don’t think quote whoring critics have been throwing around “instant classic” for longer than the Internet’s been around?

  3. Dionysis

    Finally a review of this movie that is close to my own view. I saw it twice, once upon initial release and a few years later. I was less than impressed with the first viewing, not finding it particularly funny or engaging. The second viewing did not change my mind much. I personally would give it maybe 2.5 stars. Conversely, many of the other Coen Brothers films you cite are among my favorite films. I liked ‘Blood Simple ‘ much better than than this second film.

  4. This is one of the funniest movies ever made by humans. If you don’t think so, then your soul is a rocky place, where joy can find no purchase.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Tonight’s showing (May 10) has been called on account of rain. The make-up date is next Sat., May 17.

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