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 The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading   Sun Oct 19, 2008 1:28 am

The past 12 months or so have been very kind to Joel and Ethan Coen, before then, alot of critics and their fans had felt they'd 'sold-out' to Hollywood with the likes of Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and The Ladykillers (2004). Both films were admittedly under-par, had the Coen's lost their magic touch?? No, after dabbling around in Hollywood's dream factory, they came back down to Earth with their most serious film to date, No Country for Old Men (2007), a violent modern western which won them critical acclaim and ultimately, a shit-load of awards. The film would win 4 Oscars, 3 went to the Coens, (Best Picture, Best Director(s) and Best Adapted Screenplay.) Now they had been well and truly catapulted into the mainstream, how would they follow up such a emotionally moving and disturbingly violent film?? They did what they did a decade previously, when they followed up Fargo (1996), with the delightfully comic The Big Lebowski (1998), they went and made a comedy. Although this is a film which is alot darker than the trailers and ads make out, it's still their funniest film in a good few years, and it's got a splendid cast making absolute idiots out of themselves. Burn After Reading sees cinema's greatest filmmaking siblings back to what they do best. Comedy, it's dark, but it's still fun nontheless.

Set in Washington D.C. Present day, it has CIA analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), being 'demoted' (or fired), from his current job at Langley Falls for a long standing alcohol problem. Plus, things are not going well at home for Cox as well, his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), is having a clandestine affair behind his back with cheating Treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who in turn is cheating on HIS wife Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel). Cox in a state of drunken dispair, decides to write his memoirs, highly-classified ones as well!! Wink Katie decides to divorce Ozzie, and copies his financial details on a disc, (turns out the memoirs are amongst them), which due to unforeseen circumstances, ends up in a gymnasium. Two of the gyms employees, the vain Linda Liztke (Frances McDormand) and doofus Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) wonder what to do with it. Linda wants plastic surgery, so Chad thinks the best course of action is to blackmail Ozzie so that Linda can fund her surgery. Unsurprisingly, Ozzie is very angry about all this, when that fails, Linda and Chad go to the Russians, (God knows why), at the same time Linda meets Harry through an Internet dating site, and begin a relationship... Razz

As is always the case with a Coen Brothers film, nothing is ever what it seems. This is a very deceptive piece, and after seeing it, you will need some time to piece together all of what's just happened over the past 90 minutes or so. Alot of it is built on coincidences and near-misses, it's structured a bit like a British farce crossed with a Robert Altman film like Nashville or Short Cuts, with intertwining events going on with certain characters, but they're never all in the same scene together, but it's something that connects them all that keeps the film moving forwards. Here, it's the computer disc allegedly containing the memoirs that's the MacGuffin, but we never know how much of it is on the disc or if it's relevent at all. But, there's alot of paranoia going on in the film, especially with Harry, who believes he's being followed by agents, and when one of the characters goes missing, the paranoia heightens.

It's already divided alot of people, (since when has a Coen Brothers film NOT done that??) It's good to see them return to comedy after dabbling with the mainstream, this one borders on it, but is too offbeat to be truly mainstream. It is actually their first original comedy since Lebowski, O Brother was based on Homer's Odyssey, loosely though. Intolerable Cruelty and Ladykillers were based on screenplays. But it's a very entertaining film in the longterm, alot of it doesn't add up, but is it meant to?? Alot of stuff is probabily left open ended for us to work out for ourselves.

Cast-wise, they're working with alot of old friends again, as well as alot of new faces as well. This is the Coen's third film with George Clooney, (this is the alleged 'third film in their Idiot Trilogy'), and gorgeous George looks less gorgeous with a beard, and he's also a sex pervert as well, (just wait until you see what he's built in the basement of his house!! Shocked) But, George likes to play the fool for the Coen's, and they get the best out of him, even if he is a dirty middle aged man here. Frances McDormand (Joel Coen's wife), is Linda, who you do feel sorry for, as she's dragged along in this complex tale, but she's only doing it for her vanity. But, the surprise turn in the film is Brad Pitt, this is a side to him we haven't seen before, playing an absolute idiot, who's only goal in this is financial gain. Seeing Brad dance around on the treadmill and pretending to be serious when talking to Ozzie is hilarious. John Malkovich is an actor who is perfect for the Coen's material, and his character is a man with a very short fuse, maybe no fuse at all. This is a man with no time for idiots, and his life will be eventually ruined by Linda and Chad's greed. Tilda Swinton plays probabily one of the few sensible characters in the whole film, but she's also one with an icy exterior, and does well under the Coen's direction. The cast is topped off by Coens regular Richard Jenkins as Ted Treffon, (the Coen's have such a way with character names), the gym owner. And J.K. Simmons and David (Sledge Hammer) Rasche as the CIA chiefs trying to make sense of what on earth is going on. They can't make any sense of it, although they eventually say they'll make sure it doesn't happen again. Razz

True, it is not as good as the likes of Fargo or The Big Lebowski, but it does make for a very entertaining 90 minutes. Plus, the Coen's are back with Working Title Films with this one, they worked together from The Hudsucker Proxy to The Man Who Wasn't There, so they're on safe grounds again, compared to the mainstream wilderness they were in just a few years back. It is a very funny film although it's humour only comes in slight bursts and the absurdity of the situations which arise within the film. The dialogue has nothing on their earlier work, but the lead performances in the film are worth the admission price alone. There might be accusations of smugness about it, some may say it's just another excuse for George and Brad to work together again after the ultra-smugness of the Ocean's 11 films, but who cares?? Under the direction of the Coen's, they give some of the best performances of their careers, as does everyone else. It's beautifully shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, (The Coen's regular DP, Roger Deakins, was off shooting Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road at the time), but the Coen's beloved composer Carter Burwell puts in a good score which owes alot to the paranoid spy thrillers of the 1960's and 70's.



Burn After Reading is an intelligence comedy where there's not much intelligence going on at all. Razz It's a bit of a Marmite film, if you can stand the sight of Hollywood's finest acting like idiots, then this is for you, if not, you have been warned. It starts off very deceptively like something out of a modern spy film, but soon gives way to idiocy and farce and coincidences. But, for the Coen's, it makes a good contrast to their acclaimed previous film, and it's good they've followed it up so quickly, as some directors would normally wait a while after a big Oscar success before making their next move, (in all fairness, this was filmed before No Country was released.) But, they show no signs of stopping. At the moment, they're filming A Serious Man, a semi-autobiographical tale set in Minnesota in 1967, and starring near-unknowns. After that, it could by The Yiddish Policemen's Union, based on Michael Chabon's novel, set in a world where Israel never existed and God's people live in the snowy recesses of Sitka, Alaska. It'll be exciting to see what the Coen's do next, as they're fearless. As for Burn After Reading, let's just say the likes of Bond and Bourne just got a little competition!! Wink
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PostSubject: Re: The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading   Fri Nov 07, 2008 7:49 pm

No sooner than it's come out in cinemas, it's DVD release has already been announced. Special features are sparse, but they sound interesting.

FINDING THE BURN
The making of Burn After Reading from inspiration to the big screen.

DC INSIDERS RUN AMUCK
We show the strength in putting together some of the most amazing talent in the world to create a world of Washington, DC insiders all trying to get ahead or find true love.

WELCOME BACK GEORGE
This is a companion, comedy piece, focusing on Mr. Clooney as he returns for his third collaboration with Ethan and Joel Coen.



It's out in America on December 23rd. Just in the nick of time for Christmas then!! Wink
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