The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading is one of those movies with a farcical and convoluted plot involving idiotic one-up-manship that is essentially an excuse for the filmmakers to poke fun and for their stars to have a great time doing silly bits. Here our zany Brothers return to one of their favorite themes: what happens when simpletons get in way over their heads with a cynical league of morons. Clooney, McDormand, Malcovich, Swinton, and especially Pitt, all whip out their best comedic timing and smarmy facial expressions in this tale of misguided blackmail and bumbling counter-intelligence. Unlike their last two comedic travesties (the barely there Intolerable Cruelty and the wacko Ladykillers), the Coens’ focus is sharper and crueler in this Reading and pointed directly at the government, society, themselves and their audience.
I’ve seen four out of the last five Coen Brothers’ films in crowded theaters where their faithful often laugh out of turn at some of the most unfunny of moments. Burn After Reading has plenty of those moments, as well as some truly funny ones, but one has to wonder why such a talented pair would shoot so low as to desire the elicitation of that “solo” laughter from the loons in the audience that constitute the filmmakers’ personal league of morons. When Clooney’s hardwood floor-loving womanizer unveils his “special project” to McDormand’s plastic-surgery obsessed internet speed dater, it’s a hilarious anti-climax to what had been a long build-up in previous scenes that had the whole crowd groaning and giggling. But isn’t Clooney’s rear-entry sexual-aid device a bit emblematic of how the Coens’ have been treating their audience lately? Later, when Malcovich’s alcoholic ex-CIA analyst literally takes a hatchet to another character, it again elicits uproars, but I couldn’t help but think the Coens’ were symbolically taking out their frustration on the faithful who have been befuddled by their recent offerings. We’re a cynical bunch, and so are the Coens, and whether they see themselves as the simpletons in over their heads and their audience as the league of morons, or vice versa, is never clear.
At least with this slow Burn we don’t have to deal with the pretentious philosophical ruminations of their literary bound and insanely overrated Oscar-winner, No Country for Old Men. While this might not recapture the pure joy of their original dark comedy, Raising Arizona, this star-studded and occasionally hilarious Burn After Reading is the Coen Brothers’ most entertaining film in years, even if we’re all a little more bruised from the wear.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:
Check out my archives for past Coen Brothers’ reviews:
No Country for Old Men: https://davethenovelist.wordpress.com/2007/11/13/a-review-of-the-coen-brothers-no-country-for-old-men/
O Brother, Where Art Thou? : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0190590/usercomments-616
Are you part of The Coen Brothers’ League of Morons? Feel free to share your rankings of their films. Here’s my rankings from best to worst:
Blood Simple 10/10
Miller’s Crossing 9/10
Barton Fink 9/10
Raising Arizona 9/10
O Brother, Where Art Thou? 9/10
The Big Lebowski 8/10
Burn After Reading 7/10
The Man Who Wasn’t There 7/10
No Country for Old Men 6/10
The Hudsucker Proxy 5/10
Intolerable Cruelty 5/10