Sunday, September 21, 2008

Burn After Reading

In a major departure from their last film, the Coen brothers move from the dark and brooding to the ridiculous and perverse. Burn After Reading, their latest flick, is a slapstick star-filled comedy packed with quick lines, outlandish scenarios, and visual gags. After last year’s incredible but bleak No Country for Old Men, I couldn’t wait for the brothers to get back to a comedy. I’ve enjoyed their previous works, and this one is no exception.

The movie opens with Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) being demoted from his position in the CIA. Furious, he quits, takes to the bottle, and decides to write a memoir of his rather dull life. To top things off, his adulterous wife (Tilda Swinton) has made a copy of all his confidential files to prepare for their upcoming divorce. When the disc is lost at a local gym, two unwitting employees (Frances McDormand and the lovable Brad Pitt) convince themselves these documents are of the utmost importance. Determined to reap a monetary reward, they begin to search for Osbourne. Of course, things go wrong for everyone and, like other Coen brothers movies, the characters are headed down a slippery slope from one to disaster to another. I’ll leave it at that, although I could go on about George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, and J.K. Simmons. To put it simply, there’s a lot going. The Coens find a way to intertwine every character’s story with each other. However, unlike other movies where the cast is connected through intricate, plot-driven details (i.e. Pulp Fiction, City of God), Burn After Reading uses a less traditional method (i.e. everyone is screwing everyone). While it may sound complicated, everything is relatively simple to grasp while watching it.

Despite a slow start, the movie finally begins to pull its weight at about fifteen to twenty minutes in. As you can tell by the name dropping I pulled earlier, this movie is packed with major actors and actresses. Pleasantly surprising, laughs come from each and every person in this flick. Sure, some take up a majority of the comedic bits (Brad Pitt, and I’m not just saying that because of my man-crush, he’s absolutely hysterical), but each cast member does their part, gets some jokes in, and really adds something. Simmons’ role was also one of the biggest treats. He may not have many lines, but he sure does make ‘em count. There’s also some incredibly unexpected laughs, the strongest example being Clooney’s secret basement contraption which had everyone either gasping or cracking up.

As much as I enjoyed this movie, I’ve heard many conflicting views. I saw it opening night in a decently packed theater with a very reactive audience and loved it. However, I’ve talked to others who were the only ones in the theater or who sat with unresponsive audiences. They got much less out of the movie than I, so the environment you see it in may affect what you think. Either way, the Coen brothers have released another solid movie. If you’ve liked their previous comedic flicks, be sure to give this one a go.

Burn After Reading gets a Fu Man Chu (4 out of 5).

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