Magazine November 2, 2009, Issue

Out of the Whirlwind

Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik ( Focus Features)

The films of Joel and Ethan Coen represent one of the most challenging bodies of work in contemporary American cinema — so challenging, in fact, that I’m constantly surprised by how many reviewers are confident that they’ve figured out exactly what the Coens are up to. This goes for critics who hate the brothers’ oeuvre as well as those who love it: Members of both camps often find common ground in the conviction that the Coens are essentially nihilistic jokers, squeezing entertainment value out of a universe that’s godless, meaningless, and fated to extinction.

Consider the critical reaction to their latest

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