Sunday, September 14, 2008

Burn After Reading

There are three kinds of Coen Brothers movies: dark and twisted (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Blood Simple), silly and twisted (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski) and just twisted--as in a total train wreck (The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty). It was with some trepidation that I went to see the Coen's latest comedy, Burn After Reading, as I had heard at least one reviewer compare it to Intolerable Cruelty.

In my opinion, Intolerable Cruelty is not only the title of the movie, but is also what the Coen's perpetuated on the movie going audience. I rented the screwball comedy starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones and could not manage to get through it--even with repeated attempts.

I kept falling asleep.

Fortunately, Burn After Reading is no Intolerable Cruelty. It goes from being dark and twisted to silly and twisted and almost veers off into completely twisted, but thankfully never enters train wreck territory. It's not Oscar caliber stuff like No Country for Old Men, nor will it have the timelessness of Fargo, Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, but it manages to be entertaining while it sends up and skewers just about everything: from Washington politics and bureaucracy, to plastic surgery, online dating and those really irritating automated phone menuing systems.

The trailers looked like the film would be an over-the-top farce--and I'm no fan of farce (say THAT three times fast!). It is over-the-top, silly, ridiculous and more than a little weird (hey, it is a COEN Brothers film after all...), but it's played pretty straight. There is a bit of sex, and a bit of violence (like I said, this IS a Coen Brothers film!) and A LOT of profanity

The biggest thing Burn After Reading has going for it is its cast. John Malkovich is spittle-spewing ex-CIA analyst Orbourne Cox who is married to Tilda Swinton's Katie, a brittle, uptight pediatrician who is screwing around with George Clooney's Harry Pfarrer, a paranoid, food allergic and flooring aficianado philanderer who is also cheating with Linda Litzke, a plastic surgery-obsessed gym employee looking for love in all the wrong places as played by Frances McDormand, who is best friends with Brad Pitt's Chad Feldheimer, a dim-witted personal trainer who accidentally comes into the possession of Osbourne's memoirs and decides to blackmail him.

And so the circle is complete. It gets a little convoluted as the point of view switches from Osborne to Linda to Harry, and then throw in the CIA agents who pop up now and again to sort out the mess--not only within the film but for the befuddled audience as well. Veteran character actors David Rasche and J.K. Simmonds get some of the best and biggest laughs as said agents. Much has been said about Pitt's performance--and his portrayal of a very uncomplicated pretty boy is truly winning. Part Johnny Suede and part Floyd from True Romance, he is one of the funniest things in the movie. The scene where he calls Osborne as a "Good Samaritan" telling him, "I thought you might be wooorrried...about the secuuurrrity...of your shit" is worth the price of admission alone.

At one point Simmonds character comments, "What a cluster-fuck!" and that pretty much sums up Burn After Reading. In a Coen Brothers "Shut the clucker-fuck up, Donny!" sort of way...

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