As with best Coen Brothers films Raising Arizona thrives upon the strength and originality of the characters.
H.I. – ‘Hi’ to his friends – McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) is a genial ex-con determined to go straight after a lifetime of pretty crime. His inspiration for the clean start is Ed (Holly Hunter) a policewoman with whom he sowed the seeds of a relationship during their numerous brief encounters over many years – while she took Hi’s photo for mugshots in the booking area… and what better place to forge a blessed union I say!
Hi and Ed’s marriage is almost perfect, almost too perfect. Ed decides that such a near perfect family can only be rounded off by inserting a kid into proceedings.
With no possibility of having a child through normal means, Ed and Hi resort to more leftfield thinking, and when a local identity proudly announces in the papers that he has been blessed with no less than five new rugrats, they surmise that they couldn’t possibly miss one.
Raising Arizona makes no pretence as to the plausibility of the premise, Hi is praised for his child stealing abilities yet berated for petty theft. Apparently Ed has imposed a limit of one major crime per week. On top of that the purloined newborns crawl about the place unchecked, and one somehow manages to fall from the crib before scurrying off to no doubt work on his character motivation.
The silliness ratchets still further upon the arrival of two of Hi’s ex-colleagues (John Goodman and William Forsythe), so fresh from prison that they are still adorned with the mud from the escape tunnel… and the cigar chomping Hell’s Angels via Police Academy bounty hunter tasked with retrieving the stolen child.
While it sounds a recipe for stupidity, Raising Arizona is witty, fresh and inventive, with unique characters that can only exist credibly in the Coen-iverse, delivering dialogue to savour.
But! Like the rest of the Coen Brothers filmography, the film is very good but not great. (The Big Lebowski and Miller’s Crossing both came closest to that description.)
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Endearingly silly, with rich characters and rapid fire dialogue, Raising Arizona is a notch above most modern day comedy.