A Serious Man (2009)

<strong class="MovieTitle">A Serious Man</strong> (2009)

(On DVD, March 2012) I must be mellowing in my old age, because I can imagine a younger version me wanting to burn stuff after the whopper of a non-conclusion at the end of the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man.  It’s a necessary spoiler to state that, after an entire film showing a man’s life getting worse and worse, the film shies away from a third act and snaps to a black screen at the moment where the crises are at their worst.  While the Coens have a certain track record of doing this (and being rewarded by Oscar for the trick), careful watchers will note that the move isn’t entirely gratuitous: It’s a wrath-of-God reaction to the protagonist’s final C-grade moral decision, and the film does announce, earlier, the notion of a story without a satisfying conclusion.  Still, it’s a maddening move after a generally successful black comedy in which a multitude of sharply-drawn characters are introduced and sent careening off each other.  You would think that there would be a bigger payoff… but just accept that it isn’t so.  As for the rest, there’s a lot to like in the film’s not-missing part, from the atmosphere of a 1967 Minnesota Jewish suburbia, to many lesser-known actors doing good work to a certain cruel sense of humor in which everything steadily gets worse and worse… even in the protagonist’s dreams.  This certainly isn’t a major entry in the Coens filmography, but it does carry their usual brand of expectation-defiance and unconventional artistry.

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