I found Raising Arizona when looking through DVDs. It caught my attention because Nicolas Cage is in it, and I’ve been watching a lot of his films lately: The Wicker Man, Vampire’s Kiss, and Face/Off. I decided I needed to see it when I saw that it was an early Coen Brothers film.
Raising Arizona tells a tale of a criminal marrying the officer who takes his mug shots and their attempts at living a normal life. This is all ruined when they find out they can’t have children and his criminal record is preventing them from adopting. They resort to the only option remaining. Kidnapping.
Nicolas cage plays H.I. McDunnough, the ex-convict who has a partiality to robbing convenience stores. Holly Hunter plays Ed, his wife a former police officer. John Goodman and William Forsythe play escaped convicts who pay them a visit, and Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand play neighbours with an unruly batch of kids.
From the premise down to the execution, this film is a ridiculous and wacky ride. This is both its strength and it’s weakness. When it makes you laugh at its leads’ antics, it’s a fun ride. When the pacing begins to drag or the scene doesn’t get you, its a bore. It also means you can’t take the story seriously or empathize with the characters, so if the jokes don’t work, you’re left with nothing.
The co-stars are what made it for me. When Glen and Dot visit with all their kids, the crazy and characters mesh well for a comedic scene that feels more grounded. The pair of escaped convicts steal all their scenes with their over-the-top stupidity and caricature of the redneck criminals. Randall “Tex” Cobb also makes a fine addition as a mysterious, dark manhunter.
The film feels like a compilation of skits. Some of them are funny, some weird, some too long, and some boring. The problem comes when you look at it as a whole, and you realize it’s a flimsy excuse to drop you into weird and inconsequential world.
My Favourites from the film: It has plenty of great, cutesy moments with the baby. The scenes with action in them are a great balance of comedy and thrills. The Coen Brothers do a great job of creating a world, and their dialogues between the characters are enjoyable.
My Less enjoyed parts: I think the film falters most on its leads, both from acting and writing. The characters never grabbed me as interesting or relatable enough for me to care about them. Nicolas Cage felt too restrained for the setting, which is odd considering his other films, and Holly Hunter was basically just a plot device.
My Recommendation: I can see inspirations for the Coen brothers’ later films in this one, and I feel you’d be best to just skip this one and get to them. If you’re a fan of theirs and need another film to sink your teeth into, it’s not bad. It’s a decent B-movie comedy.