Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Burn After Reading - Movie Review

The previews we had didn't get much reaction except for Oliver Stone's W. People were groaning and I heard one woman say, "That looks awful." I'm curious because I liked JFK and Nixon, even if Stone was, shall we say, "playful" with the facts.

Other previews: Milk (awards bait for Sean Penn), The International (bland big-conspiracy movie starring Clive Owen), Doubt (looks like a powerful acting tour-de-force with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and The Brothers Bloom (looks like a mediocre con comedy).

BURN AFTER READING (***) - Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche and JK Simmons.
Written & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.

I must admit, if I ranked all the Coen brothers movies from my favorite to least, The Big Lebowski would be in the bottom half. I've only seen one movie of theirs I'd thumb down - The Ladykillers - and its main problem was the usually clever dialogue was replaced with over a hundred F-words. Some movies do funny things with this word - Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino come to mind, and HBO had Deadwood - but much more often, it's a lazy screenplay space filler. It's the 21st century's "very."

Now with The Big Lewbowski tending to be the favorite Coen movie of many Coen fans, I've wondered if I need to revisit it. Maybe a ClearPlay version, I don't know. And now Burn After Reading joins The Big Lebowski and The Ladykillers for me as Coen movies where it would have been a better movie if they'd been more creative with the dialogue than a parade of F-words. Without looking it up, as far as I know, this one had the same amount of F-words as Fargo, but it sure doesn't seem like it. Fargo was a better movie.

That aside, it has many elements of classic Coen comedy. Most of the characters are idiots, and the way things spiral out of control is hilarious. Clooney plays a Treasury department employee sleeping with a doctor (Swinton) who's married to an FBI man (Malkovich). Sensitive information about him is accidentally left on a CD at a gym, where two dim employees (Pitt, McDormand) decide to use it for extortion.

My favorite parts of the movie came from David Rasche (who will always be Sledgehammer! to me) as Malkovich's boss. He's keeping an eye on the situation, even though he can't tell what's going on, and he brings regular updates to his boss JK Simmons, who finds it all more confounding.

This isn't one of their best movies. I'd rank it around Intolerable Cruelty or The Hudsucker Proxy or The Big Lebowski, but I can think of half a dozen Coen movies I liked more.

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