Intolerable Cruelty

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Intolerable Cruelty
Intolerable cruelty.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Robert Ramsay
  • Matthew Stone
  • Ethan Coen
  • Joel Coen
Story by
  • Robert Ramsay
  • Matthew Stone
  • John Romano
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
(as Roderick Jaynes)
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release dates
  • October 10, 2003 (2003-10-10)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60 million[1]
Box office $120.2 million[2]

Intolerable Cruelty is a 2003 American romantic comedy film directed and co-written by Joel and Ethan Coen, and produced by Brian Grazer and the Coens. The script was written by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone & Ethan and Joel Coen, with the latter writing the last draft of the screenplay about divorce and lawyers in Los Angeles. The film stars George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Paul Adelstein, Richard Jenkins and Billy Bob Thornton.


Donovan Donaly (Geoffrey Rush) a TV soap opera producer, surprises his wife Bonnie (Stacey Travis) being intimate with an ex-boyfriend. He files for divorce, and Bonnie hires Miles Massey (George Clooney), a top divorce attorney and the inventor of the "Massey pre-nup", a completely foolproof prenuptial agreement. Miles wins the divorce case, leaving Donaly with nothing.

Private investigator Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer) is tailing the wealthy and married Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) on a drunken night out with a blonde. When they stop at a motel, Gus catches their tryst on video. He takes the video to Rex's wife, Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose primary motivation is obtaining wealth and independence via divorce. Rex hires Miles, and Marylin's friend, a serial divorcée named Sarah Sorkin (Julia Duffy), warns Marilyn that Miles will be a dangerous opponent.

Marylin and her lawyer, Freddy Bender (Richard Jenkins), fail to reach an agreement with Miles and Rex. Bored Miles asks the fascinating Marylin to dinner, where they flirt. The next day he is able to find a witness with his assistant's help to expose her. In court, Marylin feigns an emotional breakdown over Rex's apparent cheating on her. However, Miles isn't fooled by this and gets the Baron Krauss von Espy (Jonathan Hadary) to testify that she had asked him to arrange a marriage to a man who was very rich, easily manipulated, and likely to be unfaithful, proving that Marylin's testimony was indeed a lie. Marylin winds up with nothing, and Miles' aged boss, Herb Myerson (Tom Aldredge), congratulates him.

Marylin wants revenge, and finds the now-penniless Donaly living on the street, still clutching his Emmy statuette. She offers him a chance to reclaim his lost glory if he helps her. Donaly agrees and they begin their revenge on Miles. Soon after, Marylin shows up at Miles' office with a person she says is her new fiancé, supposedly an oil millionaire named Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton). Marylin insists on the Massey prenup, but Miles sees Howard destroy it during the wedding, in a demonstration of love.

Visiting Las Vegas to give the keynote address at a convention for divorce attorneys, Miles bumps into Marylin, who says she is now disenchanted with her wealthy but lonely life, having divorced Howard and received the vast Doyle Oil fortune. Miles is thrilled, and they marry on the spur of the moment. He signs the Massey prenup, but she tears it up. The next morning a disheveled Miles announces at the convention that love is the most important thing, and that he is abandoning divorce suits in favor of pro-bono work.

Then Miles discovers that "Howard D. Doyle" was just an actor from one of Donaly's soap operas. Marylin has tricked him, and now his wealth is at risk. Miles' boss demands that something be done to save the firm's reputation, and suggests the hitman "Wheezy Joe" (Irwin Keyes), whom Miles hires to kill Marylin.

Miles then learns that Marylin's ex-husband Rex has died without changing his will, leaving her millions. Miles rushes to save his wife from the hitman, but Marilyn has already agreed to pay him double to kill Miles instead. There is a struggle and in the confusion Wheezy Joe mistakes his gun for his asthma inhaler, and kills himself.

Later, Miles, Marylin and their lawyers meet to negotiate a divorce. Miles pleads for a second chance and retroactively signs a Massey prenup. She tears it up, and they kiss. Marylin then tells Miles that to get Donaly's help for supplying Doyle, she suggested an idea to him for a TV show: Gus Petch becomes the host of a big hit, America's Funniest Divorce Videos.



Intolerable Cruelty is the Coens' first job as writers-for-hire. It was based on an original concept by John Romano, author of The Third Miracle (Agnieszka Holland, 1999) and had been developed into a screenplay by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone, who wrote Big Trouble (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2002) and Life (Ted Demme, 1999).[3]

The script was passed among directors and writers for several years, usually starting from the Coens' version.[3]


Initially the screenplay was attached to Ron Howard and then Jonathan Demme, who had planned to cast Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in the lead roles.[4] After their planned film of James Dickey's novel To The White Sea fell through, the Coens signed to direct the movie and dug out their original script to work with.[4] Filming began on 20 June 2002 after being delayed due to George Clooney's schedule.[3] Most of the film was shot around Beverly Hills; some was filmed in Las Vegas during a week at the end of production.[3]


The film received positive reviews from some critics, although in general it was considered as one of the Coens' weaker films. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 75% based on reviews from 180 critics.[5] Metacritic gives a weighted average score of 71% based on reviews from 40 critics.


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Intolerable Cruelty
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell and various artists
Released October 7, 2003
Genre Film score
pop, blues
Length 50:50
Label Hip-O
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
The Man Who Wasn't There
Intolerable Cruelty
The Ladykillers
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars
Movie Music UK 4/5 stars[6]
SoundtrackNet 3.5/5 stars[7]

Intolerable Cruelty is scored by Carter Burwell, in his tenth collaboration with the Coen Brothers.

The soundtrack album features a variety of pop songs and cues from Burwell's score. "The Boxer", first by Simon and Garfunkel and then as covered by Colin Linden, opens and closes the album. A Canadian blues musician, Linden had previously participated in Down from the Mountain, a live performance of music from the Coens' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and he performs several Simon and Garfunkel songs in the film, including a snippet of Punky's Dilemma ("I wish I was a Kellogg's Corn Flake"), not included on the soundtrack release. Other songs include "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" by Édith Piaf and "Glory of Love" by Big Bill Broonzy.

Tracks by Carter Burwell unless otherwise noted.
  1. "The Boxer" (Simon and Garfunkel) – 5:09
  2. "Intolerable Mambo – 1:41
  3. "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis Presley) – 4:33
  4. "Hanky Panky Choo Choo" – 2:07
  5. "Don't Cry Out Loud" (Melissa Manchester) – 3:48
  6. "Feels So Good" (Chuck Mangione) – 9:42
  7. "You Fascinate Me" – 1:40
  8. "April Come She Will" (written by Paul Simon, performed by Colin Linden) – 0:59
  9. "Heather 2 Honeymoon" – 1:39
  10. "If I Only Knew" (Tom Jones) – 4:18
  11. "Love Is Good" – 3:26
  12. "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" (Édith Piaf) – 2:21
  13. "No More Working" – 3:01
  14. "Fully Exposed" – 1:46
  15. "Glory of Love" (Big Bill Broonzy) – 2:20
  16. "The Boxer" (Colin Linden) – 2:20


  1. ^ Intolerable Cruelty: The Numbers
  2. ^ "Intolerable Cruelty (2003)". Box Office Mojo. 
  3. ^ a b c d Robson, Eddie (2007). Coen Brothers - Virgin Film. Great Britain: Virgin Books LTD. pp. 119–121. ISBN 978-0753512685. 
  4. ^ a b Walters, Ben (November 2003). "Bringing up alimony". Sight and Sound (British Film Institute (BFI)) 13 (11): 30. ISSN 0037-4806. 
  5. ^ [1] Rotten Tomatoes
  6. ^
  7. ^

External links[edit]