Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Burn After Reading" (2008, Dirs: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

Puffed-up to the point of bursting by its directors' sense of their own cleverness, "Burn After Reading" emerges as collage of every flaw in the Coens' oeuvre. The ham-fisted screenplay and seen-it-all-before Coen humor makes this film one of their worst. In fact, I could hardly believe that the brothers were even capable of producing such an inane piece of crap. I hope to God that they don't keep resting on their laurels creating films like this, especially after the power and scope of the fantastic "No Country for Old Men".

To tell the truth, I don't really like the Coens. They are incredibly condescending to their audience in almost every one of their films (but especially the comedies), and the way they depict southerners and minority characters as novelties rather than real people really offends me. Their gallery of the "absurd" (i.e. non-whites and Red Staters) was refreshingly absent in NCFOM - for the most part. The Dillahunt and Grant characters were staples of the old style.

This film is the most egregious example of their "smarter-than-thou" attitude that I've seen. Their attempts at humor are so pompous that they aren't even funny. We've seen these jokes in a million other films, and just because they're now being told by the COEN BROTHERS doesn't mean they're fresh or amusing. Such a sordid blend of bad jokes and gruesome violence does not a successful black comedy make.

An all-star cast is wasted here. Frances McDormand ladles out the tics and twitches and somehow makes her idiotic character even more loathsome than it already is on the page. George Clooney and John Malkovich churn out their usual shpiels. Brad Pitt shows a flair for comedy hitherto unseen, but it's still completely affected. Tilda Swinton fares the best here - she's a perfect fit for the role and she's very funny. Supporting character thesps, such as Richard Jenkins and J.K. Simmons, are wasted.


Dame James Henry said...

Am I seriously the only person who absolutely loved this movie? Maybe it's because I just have an obnoxious and offensive sense of humor that's perfectly in sync with the Coen Brothers. I certainly respect the fact that you may not find this type of comedy funny but it's been a long time for me since a film was this consistently funny from the beginning to the end.

"the way they depict southerners and minority characters as novelties rather than real people really offends me."

But they don't really depict the white people as "real people" do they? The only characters here who weren't played up for their "absurdism" were Tilda and, to an extent, John Malkovich (until the very end). Brad Pitt was a walking absurdity from his entrance until his last scene, as was George Clooney. And what about John Goodman and Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski? They're constantly being played up for their Vietnam veteran loony-ness and pretentiousness, respectively, throughout the entire film (not a negative for me, mind you).

Slayton said...

I haven't seen "The Big Lebowski" yet, so I'll check that out. My problem is that the minority characters in their films are basically used for one or two lines that bank heavily on their accents and/or mannerisms and are then discarded. i.e. "It was just LYING there"

Patrick Roberts said...

Brad Pitt can be so funny, as long as he's not taking himself too seriously... in any case, it's about time someone made good use of his habitually spastic arm movements