Published on December 3rd, 2014 | by Clint Davis
Raising Arizona 
Summary: The Coens' zany comedy is arguably the most lighthearted of their careers. As the hard luck McDunnoughs, Cage & Hunter are nothing but likable--even when they're kidnapping an infant.
PG-13 | 94 min.
Directors & Screenplay: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman
Studio: Circle Films | Distribution: 20th Century Fox
Joel & Ethan Coen have probably the best filmmaking partnership in the history of cinema and have been able to stretch their combined legs into just about every genre, and do it justice. Not all of their films have worked–Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers are pretty much the only duds, actually–but they almost always put something original on the screen. In 1987, the brothers released their sophomore picture and in it were some of the most colorful and endearing characters of the 1980s, along with an unconventional plot and some of the best yodeling ever heard in a movie soundtrack.
Raising Arizona is a movie that asks the audience to root for a pair of kidnappers, which we gladly do once we get to know them. Nicolas Cage and ever-Coen-present Holly Hunter star as Hi and Ed McDunnough, a couple without the ability to get pregnant. As we learn in the film’s opening–one of my favorite pre-credits sequences ever–Hi is a career small-time criminal with a penchant for petty thefts. Upon hearing that a local wealthy couple had given birth to quintuplets, the pair hatch a plan to take one of the babies and raise it as their own.
In true Coens fashion, the cast is full of memorable characters using a language that seems all their own, and the plot is just wacky enough to exist outside the realm of possibility. Hunter, who just puts me in a great mood every time I see her in anything, is joined by fellow Coens regulars John Goodman and Frances McDormand. Trey Wilson makes the most of his performance as unpainted furniture magnate Nathan Arizona and former boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb is–to borrow from another Coen brothers film–“the ultimate badass.”
What I love about Raising Arizona is that it’s such a sweet movie. Its central characters are so damn likable because they’re just your average trailer-dwelling folks, there are zero frills in the McDunnoughs’s life together. Of course they learn their lesson at the end of the film and nobody gets hurt that doesn’t deserve to, and Hi’s ending monologue coupled with what we hope isn’t just a dream sequence will flat-out bring a smile to your face. If you’re more a fan of the Coens’ darker material like No Country For Old Men or Fargo, you may find Raising Arizona to be too cheerful and lighthearted but if you appreciate their gift for tapping into Americana, you’ll love this movie.
That said, the movie does spin out of control in some scenes, especially where Cobb’s bounty hunter Leonard Smalls is concerned. This character is a complete monster, shooting cuddly woodland creatures with a sawed-off shotgun as he blazes by on his motorcycle…but then he opens his mouth. The character would have been a lot better if they hadn’t tried to give Cobb some dialogue, especially in a scene with the loudmouthed Wilson. He’s difficult to understand and his voice doesn’t match the authority that his physical presence exudes, but that’s a minor complaint in a film that’s all about presentation.
It was only their second film, but in Raising Arizona you can already tell Joel & Ethan Coen were two very original storytellers with a style and vocabulary all their own. It wouldn’t be until almost ten years later that they achieved mainstream notoriety but their older work had already become cult favorite by then. Also, this film coupled with Moonstruck makes a strong case for 1987 being the year that Cage became a household name.