What can I say…I’m a Coen Brothers fan. What a shock, right? It’s tough not to be though, even in this world of Big Lebowski drinking games and SNL sketches of No Country For Old Men, it’s can still be cool-without-being-cool to enjoy the Coen Brothers and their films. Needless to say, I have read many a mixed review of their latest offering, Burn After Reading, and I’m actually pretty surprised. The way I see it, it’s not much different than most of their comedic fare.
It has the swears, the violence, the wit and the goofy characters that pretty much every movie by the duo has, so I don’t see a problem. What I found funny about a lot of the reviews I read is that they stated blankly that this film had no point. Hate to break it to ya guys, but that WAS the point! I don’t want to sound college kid deep and all that, but its true. It is even stated at the end by the government official “What did we learn? I guess not to do it again…but God knows what did we do?” or something to that affect. That is what is so poignantly hilarious about this movie. It’s almost like a 2 hour Seinfeld episode…it’s all about nothing.
I’ll break it down to its bare bones: CIA operative Ozzie Cox (John Malkovich) is demoted for being an alcoholic, so instead of taking his demotion, he quits and decides to besmirch the department by writing his memoirs, which his cold as ice bitch wife (Tilda Swinton, almost colder than her role in Chronicles of Narnia as the Ice Queen herself) thinks is a stupid idea. He writes it anyway, but Swinton, who is planning a divorce, steals it and hands it over to her divorce lawyer, thinking it could be used as some kind of leverage for the divorce. She is having an affair with Malkovich’s college Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who is also cheating on his own wife with a slew of babes he meets on internet dating sites (one of them eventually ends up being lonely-heart McDormand). Now the disk with the memoirs is misplaced by the secretery and left at Hardbodies, a gym that employs both Linda Litsky (Frances McDormand) who is trying with all her might to raise some cash for unneeded plastic surgery, and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who is more or less just a complete buddy-jock airhead. When he discovers the disk, he decides to return it as a good Samaritan for a possible reward, but when given the shaft by Cox, he decides to try and blackmail him instead. As you can imagine, everything just goes down the shitter and becomes one giant mess of a situation complete with gunshots and hatchet attacks until pretty much no one is left unchanged for better or worse. PHEW! Yep…its the Coens alright.
I knew right away when the previews were selling this as a comedy, that it wasn’t. Well, I mean…it kind of is, but its very dark. If you consider someone being graphically hacked in the head with a hatchet side-splitting hilarious, then I guess it really is a comedy. It’s a very dark movie, with very funny parts thrown in. Clooney, McDormand, and Pitt (all 20 mins of him) are by far the highlights of the film. Yes, I did say Brad Pitt was only in it for about 20 mins…and yes, I know the trailers make him seem like he’s the main character. Nope…he’s just the easiest character to market because he’s the goofiest and most likable. But don’t fret, the 20 minutes or so are spread out and each one of them is hysterical, but in my
opinion, I would have to say that Clooney is the funniest. His suave/paranoid moron is a treasure and had some of the best moments in the film. For all the serious stuff George Clooney has done over the years, his comedy is top notch. He has amazing timing on facial expressions. He knows how to be silly, plain and simple and it works 100 percent for a Coens movie. I guess that’s why they’ve worked with him now 3 times. I will say that the biggest “LOL” for me in the entire film had to have come from Brad Pitt when (MASSIVE MASSIVE SPOILER!!!!!) he is in the closet hiding from Clooney and Clooney opens the door to put his gun away. When Pitt finally knows that he is caught, he gives this like “Hey…don’t worry, I’m harmless” ear to ear grin just before getting his head blown off his shoulders. That grin almost made me piss myself. I’m not sure if it was just the editing in the sense that it was kinda out of left field or what, but I am still thinking about that face. I will I could just find a still frame of that face so I could just laugh all day. Definitely my favorite part. And then to top it all off, Clooney’s reaction after he kills PItt is priceless too. He even exclaims “Oh my fuck!!” which
I found funny too. He really plays confusion and paranoia in tip top form.
Not to say that this movie was 100 percent amazing. It was great, but I wouldn’t rank it in the top 3 Coen movies. To me, this film just seemed like Ethan and Joel needed to blow off a little steam after winning the Oscar and making their darkest and most evil film, No Country For Old Men. It’s like maybe going to Disneyland after coming back from Vietnam. You need to be mindless after being so serious. I’d say my biggest guff was petty, but the entire time I was watching it, I just kept thinking “This doesn’t LOOK as much like a Coen Brothers movie as the rest of their films. Just something about
it…” And while watching the credits, I was right. Their usual DP Roger Dekins did not shoot this movie. I read later that he was too busy shooting Revolutionary Road for Sam Mendes. If you’re a huge fan of the Coens, you can tell. It has a few Coen-esque shots like the low angle view of the helicopter watching Frances McDormand, and some of the quick pull ins, but all in all, I could sense the lack of their usual DP. This is the first time since 1990 that they haven’t used him, so it does show a little. But fear not, he is back with them shooting their next film.
The very end was a little abrupt as well. I think this is where a lot of people will h ave problems. It all kinda wraps itself up in one scene, which the conclusions are only talked about in a room by two people we don’t really know. I’ll admit, their conversation of what actually transpired left me wishing we had got to actually see what transpired, but I think that the reason for this ending was one of two possible reasons: 1. They wanted to show the clusterfuck from a distance and the POV of people who didn’t know what the hell was going on, didn’t see what the hell was going on, but were forced to clean up the mess anyway. Or 2. The Coens were self-parodizing themselves for the also abrupt ending for No Country for Old Men, which we didn’t really get to see the big showdown and were left with just the aftermath. The ending for No Country left a sour taste in A LOT of peoples mouths, so I thought maybe the Coens were poking fun at themselves by sort of doing it again. This could be, and probably is, just wishful thinking, but either way, its funny.
I’d also have to say that I expected more from Malkovich. I feel like maybe he just didn’t understand the material. Not to say he didn’t get it, but I feel like he is almost too classically trained an actor for this role. I felt like he was trying too hard to be gruff and angry, and it was overboard…like, well…like a classically trained actor playing a total idiot. I think John Malkovich should stick with acting in classic novels and important films, because, while he did have some good scenes, it just didn’t fit. I’m not sure who I would have put in his place…but Geoffrey Rush comes to mind. He does serious and comedy extremely well and is just an all around tremendously diverse actor. Malkovich is too serious, and I just feel
like maybe he doesn’t “get” comedy. He was good, but by far the weakest link.
So if you’re asking if I liked it, the answer is yes. If you’re asking if I loved it, the answer is yes. If you’re asking is it as
good as Raising Arizona or Big Lebowski, the answer is no…but that doesn’t mean that the Coens haven’t hit gold again, and I’m sure in 10 years, I’ll be popping this one into the machine and enjoying it for the umpteenth time, while Intolerable Cruelty continues to collect dust.