The Coen Brothers are, perhaps, the modern day masters of intellectual filmmaking. In a world where compromise of artistic vision and expression often seems the rule instead of the exception, the Coen Brothers have practically cornered the market on filmmaking that focuses on stimulating the mind, but with enough visual stimuli present to create films that challenge the mind but also satisfy the rest of one's senses.
In a career of wonderfully made, intelligently produced and beautifully presented films, "The Hudsucker Proxy" is, perhaps, the finest example of the Coen Brothers' ability to create films of depth, intelligence and style that connect with the audience not through emotions or sensory experiences but through stunningly presented dialogue and drama for the mind.
In "The Hudsucker Proxy," Tim Robbins portrays Norville Barnes, a small-town boy from Muncie, Indiana without a lick of street intelligence it appears. We meet Norville as he walks into Hudsucker Industries for a mail-room job with visions of making it to the top. On his way in, Founder and President Waring Hudsucker is on his way out, literally, through his 44th floor office window.
The loss of Hudsucker sets off a panic as he dies with no will, and company regulations state his stock must be sold on the open market. Determined to decrease the value of the stock, Chief Executive Sidney Mussberger decides to hire an imbecile to run the company into the ground.
This leads to frequent, and insightful, hilarity as Norville is named President and sets out on his journey to lead Hudsucker to success. Robbins is simply awesome as Norville, combining his genial, small-town boy charm with the sort of charismatic presence it actually takes to lead a big company. The role allows Robbins to balance straight acting with physical comedy, but also to dish out the ideals of the film with a gleam in his eyes.
"The Hudsucker Proxy" skewers big business like few films ever have done successfully. The film is possess with satire, downright nasty satire wrapped in the prettiest of packages like only a Coen could possibly create.
The film's dialogue is crisp, sharp, consistent and incredibly paced. Jennifer Jason Leigh, in particular, is simply a joy to behold as undercover reporter whose Pulitzer prize winning director proves to be the perfect foil for her fellow reporters, played by Bruce Campbell and John Mahoney.
"The Hudsucker Proxy" is, literally, a feast for the eyes. From the opening moments of watching Waring Hudsucker fall from his window, through the office buildings and city streets Roger Deakins' cinematography is stunning, production design is stellar and costuming is beyond reproach. "The Hudsucker Proxy" is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful films I've seen in recent years.
Carter Burwell's music is a perfect accompaniment for the scenes of the film, enhancing both the drama and message of the film.
"The Hudsucker Proxy" has always drawn a mixed reaction from critics and audiences alike. It is a challenging film for viewers, because on the surface it appears to be a shallow film. These are not characters with whom we will feel an emotional bond or be able to build a relationship. On a certain level, making that transition towards a more emotional film was a logical choice. In the case of Norville, in fact, it would have been a relatively easy task to make his character absolutely adorable.
The Coen Brothers, however, choose a different route that enhances the intelligence of the film and, ultimately, creates a more effective satire of big business. Presenting the characters "as is", we are looking at, in essence, big business as it really is in the real world. By taking emotion out of the equation, we are forced to look at the facts and decide for ourselves what the characters are saying, what they represent and with whom, if anyone, we feel any sort of kinship. It is a brilliant, risky choice that works beautifully largely due to the nearly flawless script and tremendous cast performances.
I have, minimally, enjoyed every film from the Coen Brothers, yet in my eyes "The Hudsucker Proxy" is the finest of all of them. Its perfect blend of artistic vision and intellectual expression work together to create a film of lasting power and wisdom.