Monday, September 22, 2008
Burn After Reading
Full disclosure: I would be hard-pressed to dislike anything The Coen Brothers create, so despite mixed reviews for their latest offering, Burn After Reading, I walked into the theater pretty damn sure anyone who didn't like the movie just didn't "get it." Funnily enough, I walked out of the theater thinking the same thing.
To be sure, the trailer for this film is misleading, selling the story as a slapstick yukfest, which it ain't. To quote Brad Pitt's character, "Appearances can be deceptive." No, this is a finely calculated, wickedly wry satire with intermittent land-mine laughs triggered by the earnestness of each and every self-deluded player.
And, good grief, the players are perfection. Even those dismissing the film have good things to say about Brad Pitt as the delightful dunderhead who thinks he's found a goldmine in a mysterious computer disc lost in a locker room. Malkovich goes from milquetoast-to-madman in four high-balls flat. Clooney is goofily sublime as a sex addict (loved his running joke...about running). And Swinton is satisfyingly shrewy as a two-timing doctor. The supporting cast is solid gold, too, but Frances McDormand is operating on a quivering plane of pathos all her own. As the deliciously named Linda Litzke, she takes being an open book to a whole new library of self-immolation.
So what's to "get" here? A subtle yet searing indictment of egomania and its fall-out, specifically in regards to the good olde U.S. of A.—from its sacred halls of secrecy to its shameful bedroom shenanigans (note the witty wink in the bedding above).
Almost nothing is left unskewered here—from bureaucracy to rhinoplasty. The morality tale being told: When a me-first mentality runs rampant in a society, things go to hell in a hand-basket. And how. It seems the Dubya years and the pointedly pegged "mental recession" of our population served as rich inspiration for the brothers. The fact that Wall Street is unraveling from greed run amok while this film spools in theaters makes Ethan and Joel's pattern of prescience all the more impressive—and, ultimately, sobering.
Yes, avarice and vanity are fair and funny game in the Coen Brothers' masterful sights. And while those targets may not send crowds into titters, at least there's something for moviegoers' minds to marinate on as they exit the cineplex. Yep, the good news here is that everyone who sees this film is gonna take one in the gray matter—whether they like it or not.