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Raising Arizona (1987) – Review

raising arizona poster

Raising Arizona is the second film directed by the Coen Brothers after Blood Simple and is the most comedic they have made, along with The Big Lebowski. Starring Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter, and John Goodman the film is about a petty criminal (Cage) who proposes to a pretty cop (Hunter) after meeting each other when he was arrested.

But when the newlyweds learn they can’t conceive a baby, they decide to steal one from a couple who seem to have one to spare–since they just had quintuplets. The plan works, but while trying to live a happy life, the rich father of the stolen baby goes all out to get him back.

A very broad and outrageous comedy, this is tremendously stylish and filmed with a manic pace, which makes it stand out amongst their early filmography.

At the time, the Coen Brothers were friends, and in friendly competition with Sam Raimi, who was at around the same time making Evil Dead 2. Both have fantastic and unique camera movements, this time from cameraman Barry Sonnenfeld. The Coens borrowed what they called the shaky cam technique used in the Evil Dead films, where for budget reasons the camera is strapped to the middle of a long piece of wood and when held at both ends and run with, gives a smooth flowing motion.

This can be seen notably in a long sequence, in which the camera lopes over the desert hardtop, up a ladder through a household window, and into the mouth of a screaming parent Florence Arizona.

The cast is all excellent, Cage is great as the easy-going and laid-back guy who just wants a bit of luck in his life, Holly Hunter is very endearing as the woman who just wants a child to love, and John Goodman and William Forsythe totally crazy as his friends who have broken out of prison and ask for his help and shelter. Look out for Randall “Tex” Cobb as Leonard Smalls, a huge, scary biker hired to get the baby back to the parents at any cost.

Filmmaker Simon Pegg has stated that this film was a major influence on his wanting to be a director, and rightly calls the film a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon! The direction and especially camera movements are a standout, and the manic storytelling does not overstay its welcome and is very rewatchable.

The unusual soundtrack also gives the film a unique feel with the yodelling Southern influence, and overall this is a different and very enjoyable piece of cinema that did well at the box office upon release but has since gathered a cult following.

The film has had a decent release on Blu-ray in the UK and USA and is well worth adding to your collection.

8.5 out of 10

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