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Why the Coen Brothers Had the Best Side Characters Ever

By Petr Navovy | Miscellaneous | October 5, 2023 |

By Petr Navovy | Miscellaneous | October 5, 2023 |


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One of the things I’m thankful for is growing up during the Coen Brothers’ reign. During some of the most formative years of my movie-watching life, I was lucky enough to watch Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Hail, Caesar!—all either when they released, or not long after. And then to be able to reach back and also absorb things like Blood Simple, Barton Fink, Raising Arizona, and more—what a feast that was! One of the strongest runs of any American filmmakers ever. And I could go and take so many of them in at the cinema. As is so often the case, I didn’t know how good I had it. I took the Coen Brothers’ presence on the movie landscape for granted.

And then whatever The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs was happened, and with a whimper the genius duo faded, it seemed, into the background of the industry.

The cinematic landscape feels much bleaker and emptier for not having the Coen Brothers weaving their magic on it anymore. It makes me sad. I was made even sadder when I stumbled upon this video by YouTube channel Archer Green, who put forward a lovely essay on how much care and craft the Coen Brothers put into their side characters—characters which, even sometimes only through ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ appearances leave greater impressions than the protagonists of films by many other filmmakers. It’s a topic I touched on in my Burn After Reading anniversary piece a few years ago, and which Caspar explored another side of with his wonderful ranking of Coen Brothers character names, and Archer Green do a great job here expanding exactly what makes those side characters so brilliant:

Jesus, yes, of course—but even Liam! Liam rocks.