15 September 2008
when it makes sense
Great though my love for No Country For Old Men is (and it's not all that great - were I given a choice between watching it, or The Big Lebowski, or O Brother!, or Fargo, or Barton Fink, or even, probably Blood Simple or Intolerable Cruelty, No Country would lose every time), I was jonesing for the Cohens to get back to form. If anybody could stay true to themselves after winning the ultimate in popular artisitic validation awards (and whether or not the Oscar is just that is very, very debatable, but let's just say it is for the moment), it'd be Joel and Ethan Cohen. They did it once before (Fargo to Lebowski), and I knew they could do it again.
Enter Burn After Reading, the movie I'd been waiting to see for nearly two months, ever since the "Red Band" trailer made an appearance on iTunes (a similar situation occurred with Tropic Thunder, and while I think I'd like to see it again, just to confirm my suspicions about it, I'm still pretty sure I'll be underwhelmed again). Those two or so minutes of footage confirmed what I'd hoped, that the taut, lean tension of No Country was going to be counteracted by pure, unleashed ridiculous. George Clooney mugging as confidently as only our generation's Cary Grant can, Frances McDormand biting into another self-conscious, self-confident bag of contradictions, John Malkovich being, well, John Malkovich, and Brad Pitt throwing every drop of his cool away and replacing it with ass-dumb stupidity.
J.K. Simmons! J. Jonah Jameson, Verne Schillinger, Mac MacGuff, Emil Skoda! And Richard Jenkins! Nathaniel Fischer!
I really don't want to relay the plot of the movie, because attempting to bring order to the beautiful, nearly incomprehensible chaos that is Burn After Reading seems somewhat counterproductive to me. Revealing the fact that we don't even meet Linda and Chad (McDormand and Pitt) until we're much farther into the movie that I'd expected doesn't really reveal any insight into how I felt about it (the movie). Making a comparison between Burn and Pyscho, while apt (perhaps), isn't really justifiable, and may well be lazy.
It touches upon all of the hoped-for Cohen bases (sex, violence, loyalty, betrayal, commitment, confusion), includes the requisite bizarrely quotable lines ("Hello? Anybody lose their secret CIA shit?", "I'm not here representing Hard Bodies," or "Think I got time to get a run in"), and the nonsensical tangents (like that chair that Clooney's character puts together).
While it's not in the same league as the top-shelf movies Joel and Ethan have put out, it's more than satisfying, particularly for someone who's as endeared towards their comedy as I've forever been. If great actors playing great characters is one of the things that makes a great movie (or so says John Madden's cousin, Jon Madden), then Burn After Reading is, at the very least, a good movie, or a fun one. And it ends exactly when and where it needs to (unlike, say, almost every other movie that has/will come out this year).