Raising Arizona (1987)

“My name is H.I. McDunnough. Call me ‘Hi.’” The Coen Brothers remain two of the most enigmatic and unpredictable filmmakers even now, nearly four decades into their careers. You never know what kind of movie they will make, but you know no one else but the Coens could have made it. They started their commercial movie career with the murderous thriller Blood Simple. After that, they wanted to lighten up a bit. The result was one of the most distinctive and hilarious comedies of the 80s.

Raising Arizona sees a young Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter at the dawn of their careers, as an unlikely married couple (he’s an ex-convict with a rap sheet longer than your arm, she’s a police officer) who want more than anything to have a child, but can’t have one of their own. When a set of quintuplets is born to a famous furniture salesman, the pair decide to kidnap one and raise it as their own.

This basic premise could be spun in any number of ways, even by the Coens themselves. What makes Raising Arizona so unique is how the acting and pace give the movie its character. The opening sequence, laying out the story with wonderfully laconic narration by Cage, is one of the most memorable of its era. All the actors (including John Goodman as a bombastic criminal) deliver performances that are larger than life, underlining the farcical tone.

The dialogue, with so many memorable lines, helps as well.

Miller’s Crossing. Barton Fink. Fargo. The Big Lebowski. O Brother, Where Art Thou. No Country for Old Men. Burn After Reading. True Grit. Inside Llewyn Davis. Many filmmakers would kill to have a resume of amazing films half that long, with as much amazing variety in it. The Coens are masters of bouncing between genres and styles, and creating unforgettable stories within them. Raising Arizona showed that dexterity early on.

Raising Arizona is available for streaming on Hulu.

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