Thursday, September 25, 2008

Burn After Reading

written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
starring: Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton
(This will be a shortened review since I saw this film some time ago and since it's already been spoken ad-nauseum)

After their heavy and meditative No Country for Old Men, which won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director, the Coen brothers are at it again, this time foraying into comedy (which they do so well). I won't recount the film's storyline in too much detail because A.) I don't think that's the point of a movie review and B.) It's rather ridiculous. Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) a dismissed CIA operative is penning his memoirs as a means to make money, much to the dismay of his cold fish of a wife, Katherine (Tilda Swinton). In a series of unfortunate (and improbable) events, a disc containing several pages of the memoir lands in the incompetent hands of two fitness club employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand), who wish to use the secrets contained therein for their own financial gain. It's classic Coen brothers storytelling. A group of unwitting, unsuspecting people getting drawn into situations with dire consequences that they never seem to realize until it's way too late to turn back.

The film is well-written, but is that saying much? The Coen brothers have such a way with dialogue and characters. The film clearly wants you to laugh along with the ridiculously intricate nature of the tale, which is funny enough. About 3/4 of the way through the film, it starts to grow tiresome and lag somewhat, but the conclusion is enough to keep the average Coen brothers fan at least partially satiated.

All of the players here are in top form. Tilda Swinton plays ice queen once again like nobody's business. Swinton's Katherine is cheating on her husband with Harry (played by George Clooney) and doesn't even take off her pearls when she's making love. Frances McDormand seems to be able to elicit laughs with a mere facial expression and George Clooney is wonderfully bumbling and un-suave. The film also boasts great supporting talent from the likes of JK Simmons (Juno) and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor). The standouts of the film are clearly John Malkovich and Brad Pitt, probably in that order. They are both having such joyous fun with their roles. While they are both great, it seems that Pitt is getting all the press for his sharp comedic turn. I found his performance to be slightly more self-conscious than Malkovich, who found a sort of effortless, fluid humor that I found to be delightful.

There are a few more Coen brothers trademarks at work here. The "ho-hum" attitude towards death and the expectation that you chuckle along with them. I'm not sure how I feel about that, nor am I sure it's even a huge problem. I mean, our culture doesn't really have a problem with death the way people would like to think, but that's another issue entirely.

Grade: B

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