Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Burn After Reading

As far as movies by the Coen brothers go, Burn After Reading is merely in the middle of the road. Fortunately, it's such a damn good road that saying it's in the middle is hardly a knock. I didn't love it as much as their best work, but I've only come to appreciate it more since I've watched it, and it's not nearly as close to bad as say, The Ladykillers. It's a unique addition to their body of work, mixing the humor of their sillier movies with the very frank violence of their serious films. It's sort of a satire of espionage thrillers, but also not really. It's pretty short, but also takes a while to really get going. The plot's a pretty tightly coiled knot by the end, although I kind of wished there was some more convolutions to really take it all the way. I feel like it could have been great with a tighter script, but as it is, it's still pretty good.

Production-wise, it's as good as the Coens have ever been. The score is bombastic and completely over the top for the content, adding to the satirical vibe. It's their first film without their usual cinematographer in a long time, but they don't miss a beat, with plenty of wonderfully shot moments, especially the ones at the CIA headquarters. There's some really cool zoom shots that show the location, and I love the way the camera follows people's feet as they walk from room to room. The CIA scenes in general are great, with JK Simmons hilarious as usual as the man in charge of the incident, and the coda where they talk about what happened sums up the movie perfectly. The cast is their biggest yet, with Oscar winners George Clooney, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton, and nominees Brad Pitt and John Malkovich. They all play their roles very well. Swinton's character seemed more pointless than the others, and Malkovich's dialogue wasn't as funny as it tried to be, but they still fit appropriately into the story. Pitt was great as a moronic gym instructor, and I ended up wishing the movie had more of him. McDormand and Clooney are in a lot of their movies, which makes sense for Frances since she's married to Joel, and they're great again in parts written for them.

After a good amount of time introducing the characters and how they know each other, the story begins when Pitt and McDormand find what they believe is Malkovich's "secret CIA shit" and try to ransom it back to him, and then a bunch of crazy things happen that result in some characters dead, some on the run, and some intact. The CIA is paying attention, but even they're not sure what's happening and don't seem to care too much. They're pretty much in the same position as the audience, wondering what the point is. It's kinda gutsy to make a movie with no point, but in a way that IS the point, and the way they go about showing it is pretty great. It's pretty funny too, and I'm looking forward to watching it again more than No Country for Old Men, so take that for it's worth. They're already filming their next movie, which has a cast of unknowns instead of one of stars, so we'll see what happens.

PS: I just noticed that this is the second review of a Coen movie in a row that I've derided The Ladykillers, which I didn't intend to do. It's really not a terrible movie, it's just definitely not what you should watch if you want to see what they're about.

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