The Coen Brothers have a very unique sense of style. Their films are often visually arresting, filled with violence and a bizarre sense of humor that is both black and hyperkinetic. Nearly each of their films has tackled a different form of genre.
Their first film, Blood Simple, is filled with violence, double crossings, betrayals and lots of shadows. You could call it an updated film noir. In fact many of the Coen Brothers films are influenced by noir, both from the cinema and many of the detective novels that spawned them.
Miller's Crossing, though primarily a gangster picture, takes much of its plot from two Dashiell Hammett novels: The Glass Key and Red Harvest. Likewise, the plot twists that go nowhere in The Big Lebowski are reminiscent of many of Raymond Chandler's works, and IMDB notes that the film was inspired by Robert Altman's version of Chandler's The Long Goodbye. Though, being a Coen film, the brothers move the time frame up and make it a stoner flick. It's the Big Sleep meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The Coen's have also created their own versions of genres as the screwball comedy (The Hudsucker Proxy with Jennifer Jason Leigh doing her best His Girl Friday impression), the musical (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), cartoon shorts from Looney Tunes (Raising Arizona) and the true life crime drama (Fargo, though in true Coen Brother's style they claimed it was based on real events, though they actually made it all up).
In 2003 they hit on new territory with the romantic comedy, Intolerable Cruelty. Though filled with some classic Coen moments their take on this genre fell flat. Being the first film in which someone other than the brothers takes partial screenplay credits (Sam Raimi takes co writing credit on Hudsucker Proxy, but he is an old Coen collaborator.), the results of relinquishing some control of the story created what is easily the brothers’ worst picture up to that point.
Their next picture likewise took over some unusual ground for the genre. They remade the 1955 British crime comedy, The Ladykillers. It stunk very badly.
Working with other writers = not very good.
Remaking somebody else's film = crapola.
Here's hoping their next picture is a complete original.
The Ladykillers was bad enough that it made me wonder what the Coens saw in the original that made them think updating it was a good idea. I checked out a copy from the excellent local library to see how it faired.
After watching it I can see how it appealed to the Coen Brothers. It is a bit absurd, quite funny and rather violent, in a twisted kind of way.