Raising Arizona (1987) Review:

Raising a smile.

Earl Hickey, is that you?
Earl Hickey, is that you?

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Runtime: 94 minutes

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, et al…

Plot (taken from IMDb): When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family’s quintuplets, their lives get more complicated than they anticipated.

Raising Arizona is an odd film, it precedes and sets in motion the themes and style of the Coen brothers’ future film The Big Lebowski, but it isn’t as funny as that film, or as memorable. Raising Arizona is a character film, and this character is played by Nicholas Cage – and this holds the film together.

I've got a baby!
I’ve got a baby!

Nicholas Cage’s performance as H. I. McDonnough is very, very good – he portrays the ex-convict in a surreal manner, but then again, the whole film is rather surreal. Throughout the film we are treated to some lovely cinematography and a mixture odd characters brimming with some great lines – unfortunately however, Raising Arizona isn’t as funny as it should be.

There are some great lines in the film and anybody who has seen another Coen brothers’ movie should understand the brand of humour, but for those unfamiliar their brand of humour is relatively low-key, based on character traits and how they should speak. Raising Arizona’s humour however feels a little antiquated, but I believe this is to do with its storyline, which focusses around an odd-couple looking after a baby they stole as they believed the parents had enough children already.

This guy is quite bizarre.
This guy is quite bizarre.

The plot feels like it has been done before, but then you remember that Raising Arizona is (as of writing) 28 years old – perhaps the film has been copied since in multiple different forms, not least by My Name is Earl. Indeed, the reason for why Raising Arizona seemed so familiar to me while watching it is probably because I am a big fan of My Name is Earl which shares similar tropes and themes with the film. This however, is pointless if you are unfamiliar with My Name is Earl, if you are not familiar with that show then there is a lot to like about Raising Arizona – just as there is if you are familiar with it.

Within its relatively short runtime there is a lot to love about Raising Arizona, but there is something about the film missing to move it into truly recommendable territory. As stated above the film seems a little antiquated, despite its surreal nature and I feel this is because the Coen brothers had not yet got into their groove – this film feels like a pre-cursor to their later triumphs.

There's a lot of screaming in this one.
There’s a lot of screaming in this film.

Raising Arizona contains some of the Coen brothers’ hallmarks, but they don’t feel quite ready yet, they need more time in the oven. Raising Arizona feels a little rough around the edges throughout, and although we are treated to some wonderful characters, great lines and fun situations it never becomes anything more than fun – and there is nothing wrong with that.

Summary:

Raising Arizona is a fun film filled with great characters, good acting and great cinematography. However, the film feels a tad antiquated compared to the Coen brothers’ later efforts, acting as something of a pre-cursor to their greater works.

Enjoyable, but not essential.

76/100

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