Intolerable Cruelty

Released in 2003. Written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and the Joel & Ethan Coen. Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen. Starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Running time 1 hour 40 minutes.


After a lengthy credits opening with images of romance and love, a wealthy man, Donovan Donaly (Geoffrey Rush) drives home to find his wife, Bonnie (Stacey Travis) having an affair with the pool man. (They don’t own a pool…) An altercation ensues and ends with Bonnie in the divorce lawyer’s office. Miles Massey (George Clooney) is a top divorce lawyer, obsessed with his teeth, and in a bit of a mid-life crisis. Miles wins the case for Bonnie getting her everything and leaving Donovan in the poor house.

Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) is caught by private investigator Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer) having an affair with a young blond. Gus shows the video footage to Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who has been hoping for this footage so she can divorce Rex and become independent and very wealthy.

Marilyn and her laywer, Freddy Bender (Richard Jenkins) meet at Miles Massey’s office (he’s representing Rex Rexroth) along with Wrigley (Paul Adelstein) Miles’ partner. Miles and Freddy banter back and forth but don’t get anywhere with the negotiation; but, sparks fly between Miles and Marilyn.

Miles invites Marilyn to dinner to find out more about her. He discovers she’s a gold digger and possibly his greatest challenge. Miles hires Gus to break into her home and take pictures of her address book to find any incriminating evidence to use against her at trial.

At the Rexroth trial, Miles proves Marilyn only married Rex for the money and wins the case for Rex. Marilyn decides to get revenge on Miles and tracks down Donovan Donaly for help.

Some time later, Marilyn shows up at Miles’ office with her new fiance` Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton) who is an oil tycoon. Marilyn tells Miles that she wants to restore her reputation by using the Massey pre-nup (which has never been broken) to prove she’s marrying for love this time. Miles is shocked and warns her against it but agrees to write it up. As Marilyn and Howard are leaving the office, Miles pulls Marilyn out of Howard sight and kisses her. Later, at Marilyn and Howard’s wedding, Howard eats the pre-nup with barbecue sauce and Miles catches on the ruse.

6 months later, Miles is in Las Vegas for a divorce lawyer convention when he sees Marilyn walking down the steps. He follows her into an elevator and asks her to dinner. She agrees. At dinner, she reveals how lonely she is with all her money and no one to share her life with. They decide to get married in Las Vegas–with a crying Wrigley and a signed Massey pre-up. Before they consummate the wedding, Marilyn tears up the pre-nup and they spend the night together.

The next morning, Miles is giving the keynote address to the divorce attorney convention when he declares he’s decided to work pro bono from now on since he has fallen in love. At first the crown is shocked but then cheers for him. After the speech, he and Wrigley are celebrating and see Howard on tv. Howard is really a soap opera actor which means Marilyn was never rich and now Miles’ fortune is exposed to being taken by Marilyn.

Miles runs to the wedding suite where Marilyn confirms everything. Back at home, Miles and Wrigley hire the hitman Wheezy Joe (Irwin Keyes) to take care of Marilyn in order for Miles to keep his fortune. Meanwhile, Rex Rexroth is having a grand ol’ time with a bunch of young blonds when he suffers a heart attack and dies leaving Marilyn with millions because he never updated his will. Miles and Wrigley try to stop Wheezy Joe who ends up killing himself in the process.

Back at Miles’ office, Miles shows Marilyn he still loves her and is willing to sign a new pre-up to stay married. They kiss, start a deal producing a game show with Donovan Donaly, and live happily ever after.

What I Liked

This film was better than I expected. (I’ve had the dvd for years and never watched it.) I normally don’t care for George Clooney and his acting ticks; however, in this case–it worked because his character is more of a caricature of sorts instead of person of depth; whereas, Catherine Zeta-Jones is completely in her element as a sexy, manipulative, temptress. They worked very well off each other and the scenes with them together were natural and fun to watch.

This film reminded me of the 80s wacky comedies like Ruthless People, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Money Pit…Just enough rooted in reality with a bit of exaggeration in the characters.

The pacing was good, the dialogue was crisp, timing on point…it clipped right along. I enjoyed it.

What I Wished Was Better

I wish the opening credits weren’t ten million years long…I get it, the set up is love and ultimately divorce and then ultimately love again. I didn’t really need a trip through time and literature…

The scene with Marilyn sitting with her friends talking about her impending divorce and Rex hiring Miles Massey. one of her friends mentions trying to catch her husband with his mistress and one of the other ladies chokes on her water. A bit implying the choking woman is the mistress. This is never revisited–even with just a line later on. That could’ve have been edited out or a line added in to tie up the loose end. The Coen brothers are clever, so I’m a bit surprised it got past them.

The title. It’s misleading. The tag on the poster may have worked better, “Engage the Enemy” or something along those lines.

Final Thoughts

Overall, a cute surprise to watch. Made me nostalgic for 80s relationship comedies. Probably on streaming services…watch the trailer below:

Fun Facts: This film was in development for about 8 years which had the match ups Richard Gere/Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts in consideration before going with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

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