Saturday, April 4, 2009
REVIEW - "Burn After Reading" (2008)
I love how the Oscar winning directors of the previous year’s best picture winner decided to follow up with something far less serious, but knowingly absurd. In some ways this attitude makes “Burn After Reading” funnier than it really is. Sure, we’ve all seen the Coen’s sense of humor go in better directions, (“The Big Lebowski” for example) but the spy genre has probably not experienced this much hysterical over-paranoia. For that alone I have to give the Coen Brothers credit.
When former CIA agent’s (John Malkovich) memoirs are found and misinterpreted by two over zealous gym employees, (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) they attempt to blackmail the government in to paying for liposuction surgeries. A married womanizer (George Clooney) becomes inadvertently involved with them and starts to believe he is being spied on. With everyone assuming one conspiracy or another, the CIA, meanwhile, has no clue what’s going on.
If you finish this film wondering what it was suppose to be about, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The best I can figure is the Coen Brothers wanted to twist the paranoia aspect connected to intelligence agencies to its fullest. By the end we understand that there was no intelligence behind any of it. In a sense it’s as if “Burn After Reading” is a long joke with a single punch line. If you can watch it with this in mind it can be a very rewarding experience. If not, you’ll be disappointed to know that “Burn After Reading” isn’t a continuous laugh-out-loud experience through and through.
To join us through the journey of the joke is John Malkovich at his best—His best being angry, loud and loaded with cursing. Equally as impressive is George Clooney’s perverse character. Clooney plays a man with such short moral standards that he has to cheat on his wife with multiple people before going insane with paranoia. His gimmicky wit and short bursts of overacting give the film some of its better moments. Ah, but what of Brad Pitt? Certainly assured, it’s a supporting role, but it was powerful enough to nearly steal the show. I don’t think Brad Pitt has gone this overboard since “12 Monkeys.” For those who want to see Brad Pitt unleashed, this is your chance.
The big question is, after the film ends its purposefully convoluted plot, does the proposed “punch line” deliver? For me, anything ending with J.K. Simmons is a fine way to go out, but truthfully, when all is said and done, there’s not too much to discuss. So the Coens spoofed the spy genre, furthermore, it was a much more respectable spoof than, say, “I Spy.” But I can’t help wondering if the Coens were trying to say more throughout the film. If so, it’s lost in its spider-web structure as an afterthought-- A recurring problem I’ve seen in other Coen Brother scripts.
It’s fun to at least note the prospect of deeper thought in this movie. Even if it doesn’t shine, the pieces make for a mildly entertaining comedy. Repeated viewings will be sparse with this one, but “Burn After Reading” is nothing to completely burn after watching. Like many CIA files I’m sure it’ll just collect a lot of dust.
**½ out of ****