September 15, 2008

Movie Review: Burn After Reading

burnafterreading1_largeLast year Joel and Ethan Coen delivered what will likely become a cinematic classic in No Country for Old Men. The film was dark, it was violent, and it was a masterpiece. Its excellence was recognized by the Academy, winning the 2008 Best Picture Oscar. You know what that means, right? It is time for the brother duo to step away from serious cinema and take a stroll through the absurdest side. Coming across as more Fargo than No Country, Burn After Reading hits the ground running, piling on plot thread upon plot thread in this tightly plotted comedy/thriller that keeps building and building until its ultimate climax where everything is revealed.

burnafterreading2The Coen Brothers are known for crossing genre boundaries, blurring the lines to such a degree that it no longer exists. This line erasing makes their films all the harder to classify. Is Burn After Reading a comedy with thriller elements or is it a thriller with comedy elements? Arguments could be made in both directions. My take? I have to say that although the film is built upon traditional thriller elements, this movie is a comedy. At its heart, it is the comedy that pushes this movie forward, and what a comedy it is!

To describe the plot in any detail would take way too much time to get through, not to mention robbing it of the ability to surprise you. I was actually surprised by how plot heavy Burn After Reading turned out to be. The Coens' did a quite a job plotting out this comedy, it is so heavy with characters that you have to begin to wonder how they will all fit into the puzzle. After a short while, it becomes something of a game to piece the players together, something to do in between the laugh out loud moments.

burnafterreading1So, let's set the stage. Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is a CIA analyst who quits his job rather than take a demotion. His wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), is cold, icy, and none to pleased about her husband's decision. Meanwhile, Katie is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), an ex-intelligence agent with a habit for trolling the internet for dates. Harry is also considering divorcing his wife for Katie. Then there is Chad (Brad Pitt)and Linda (Frances McDormand) who find a CD filled with CIA secrets from an unpublished copy of Osbourne's unpublished memoir. They get the idea to sell the information back to Osbourne. From here the story becomes increasingly convoluted and increasingly hilarious.

There is not a single character or line out of place. The Coen's have done an absolutely exquisite job of piecing this film together. It is made all the more hilarious to realize that everything is completely absurd and that there is absolutely no point to it. Seriously, there is no reason for anything in this movie to go down the way it does. There is a scene glimpsed in the trailer that involves JK Simmons as a CIA supervisor and David Rasche (Sledge Hammer!) as a CIA operative that sums everything up rather nicely. The scene ends with Simmons telling Rasche to report back when it makes sense.

burnafterreading4Watching Burn After Reading is an interesting experience. The movie gets more and more bizarre, makes less and less sense, yet retains complete cohesion. It is such a weird blending of comedy and thriller that no one but the Coens could have done it.

The trailer does not do the film justice. Sure, it gives us a good glance into the Pitt character, but it makes the film seem a lot more slapstick than it actually is. There is plenty of that type of comedy, but there is a quick and intelligent verbal wit at play. This is enhanced by the fact the characters engaging in this verbal sparring are doing some seriously stupid things, getting themselves in deeper into things than they really need or want to.

The movie is notable in delivering a few of the funniest sequences you are likely to see on the big screen this year, which will not be spoiled her. Just know that when you see them your jaw will drop and you will not believe what you have seen.

Bottomline. One of the finest screenplays of the year is the basis for this movie. It lacks seriousness and ultimately point, but that in and of itself may actually be the point. This only plays up the genius of the Coens. It is unexpected, it is predictable, and it is an absolute blast.

Highly Recommended.


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