Saturday, September 13, 2008

REVIEW: Burn After Reading...


Today I had a religious experience. To me, not many directors today do what the Coen Brothers do. There last film, No Country For Old Men, won them a few much deserved Oscars, but their entire canon has been filled with masterworks. I think they are the best duo of filmmakers out there, and possibly the best directors we've got on this planet. They started off with what I consider their best film, Blood Simple, a small little film noir classic, and have since created one of the most formidable set of films to date. Sure there have been a few stinkers, really only their comedy, Intolerable Cruelty, but this weekend sees the release of their latest comedy, Burn After Reading. From Raising Arizona to the Big Lebowski, they have created many exceptional comedic films, but does this one fit that mold.

The film features an outstanding cast. It stars John Malkovich as Osbourne Cox, a CIA Agent who has quit his job, and can not accept that he has a big time drinking problem. His wife, Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), is cheating on him with the horny womanizer, Treasury Agent, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), and she is in the midst of finalizing a divorce from Ozzy. This is where the story begins. Katie gives a disc of financial info, along with the beginnings of a memoir Ozzy was working on, to a law firm secretary, who misplaces it over at Hardbodies Gym. This disc is found by a janitor, Manolo, who then gives the disc over to the bumbling dork, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who decides that this disc is full of "the raw intelligence". He and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) attempt to blackmail Ozbourne Cox, and the plot unravels from there. However, the two main characters are plagued by the same problem. Vanity.

Ozbourne Cox is a former Princeton grad, who can not take that he has a drinking problem. He is an arrogant guy, who thinks everyone else is a bumbling idiot, when it is he himself who has a few problems. He is intellectually vain. Then there is the physically vain Linda, who only wants to blackmail Mr. Cox to pay for four separate cosmetic surgeries, so she can finally find someone who will love her. In the midst of these two stubborn heads, is a story steeped in lying, cheating, deceit, and a lot of hilarious idiocy. Brad Pitt is great as a trainer who is just looking to be a "good Samaritan", Clooney gives a great performance as a womanizer who loves a good run, and small performances from J K Simmons and Richard Jenkins really add some depth to this already strong cast.

Another star is the tone of this film. As the film begins, it's a really airy and light film. There are a ton of laughs and the opening of this film may be some of the funniest five minutes of this entire year. However, there is a moment near the middle of the film that really takes the film in a different direction. It's still light and airy, but it's much more of a dark comedy. The film is not visually stunning, but it's the Coen's style of squared off frames, but when there are little visual flashes, such as the following of feet through a hallway, it adds a lot to the film. It's also really interesting in that they switched D.P.'s with Emmanuel Lubedski from the great Roger Deakins who they had used since Miller's Crossing. The shot style, the hues, and the feel to this film are exactly what you would expect from the Coens.

This film is the epitome of what a good comedy is, at least to me. This is the opposite of a film like Step Brothers. In Step Brothers, the comedy is much more joke based. Take the use of vulgarity for example. John Malkovich curses up a storm in this film, however, it's who his character is. He's a drunk intelecutal with people problems, not some guy stuck in an adolecent state. George Clooney creates a sort of pleasure machine, but it's all the funnier, because you could see his character making the said machine. The humor in Burn After Reading is story based humor, which makes it all the better. The film is airy and full of laughs, but filled with much darker themes, and that adds to the quality of this film. However, with every comedy, the tell all sign of quality is the amount of laughs, and in this case, it's one of the best films of the year. I can not say this enough, but Pitt steals every scene he is in. From him describing what is on the disc, to him simply helping a customer stretch, there is not a lame scene when the guy is on screen. Clooney seems to be having the time of his life, hamming up the womanizing image of himself, and even Frances McDormand gets a lot of good moments. The film was a blast for the people making it, and it was one for me to watch.

That all said, there were a few flaws in this film. While he was fine, Richard Jenkins began to wear on me near the end. He plays a nervous gym owner, and while it was a fine performance, it slowly began to be a little annoying. Actually, that's about it. This film is funny, subversive, dark, and chock full of great performances. Please, come one, come all, join me in the cult of Coen.

Here's the trailer...


BURN AFTER READING - 8.5/10
After the great No Country For Old Men, the Coen's return with a subversive, dark comedy, featuring A-class performances, great Coen visuals, and most importantly, and endless amount of laughs.

Thank you guys for reading my review of Burn After Reading. I would love to hear what you guys have to say about this flick!

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