This tongue-in-cheek Coen Brothers' comedy, loosely based on Homer's The Odyssey, is first-rate. When Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), serving time on a chain gang, receives word his wife has pronounced him dead and is planning to re-marry, he plans to escape and win her back.
Unfortunately, he's shackled to the spectacularly stupid Delmar O'Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) and Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro). Once he's convinced them he knows where more than $1 million are hidden, the three escape and so begins a journey through 1930s America involving beautiful Sirens, who turn one of them into a toad; a one-eyed bible salesman (John Goodman); black blues singer Tommy Johnson (Chris Thomas King), who sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads; a money-raising recording gig that turns them into superstars; and a savage political campaign.
There are plenty of references to Homer's The Odyssey (hence Ulysses and his wife Penelope, not to mention Goodman as Cyclops, the Sirens and a blind seer, Teiresias in the epic), but is totally stamped with the Coen's imprint, deliriously comic yet logically constructed. There's also a stirring bluegrass soundtrack, including performances by the Cox Family, Ralph Stanley, Alison Kraus, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris.
The three leads all play their roles superbly, with Clooney looking on occasion like Clark Gable in It Happened One Night and Nelson and Turturro his excellent foils. The directors hold the episodic nature of the film together to bring all the threads, rather like Ulysses, safely home in the end.