Sunday, October 26, 2008

Burn After Reading

I don't often get out to see new movies while they are still in theatre so I try to do full-scale reviews when I do. It was a treat to get out to see Burn After Reading with my wife the other night. It was one last date before our twins arrive and things get hectic again. This is not exactly a date movie, but we didn't have a lot of options, and my wife is a good sport!

Like Fargo, this Coen brothers comedy had its share of violence and f-bombs (readers be warned). Also like Fargo, however, the main humour of the film is that it makes the bad guys look really stupid. In this case it is the CIA's bumbling and one man's infidelity that gets the brunt of the satirical edge. This isn't "ha ha" funny so much as it is the joke that you are left with at the end of the day---and it is a joke very well told.

Besides that, the humour of the film is delivered in such a way that it wouldn't be funny if I told you. My brother was right when he told me that the great thing about the Coen brothers' films is that they do stuff in a way that could only be done in film. It is true use of the medium. If you read the script or looked at the stills or even listended to the audio-reel you probably wouldn't laugh at the parts I laughed at. But there were these moments that were indescribably funny and I'll only look stupid trying to explain them. Odd situations lead to oddly-said lines from quirky characters and next thing you know you are laughing uproariously at an otherwise non-descript moment like getting the name of a bike wrong.

The weird thing about it is that these odd characters seem more true to life than most "normal" characters in film. They do the awkward things that real people do, and it ends up being fairly funny or fairly disturbing, mostly because it is just way too true.

It is hard for me to review a film without interacting with the content a bit--even for a comedy. That's just me. I appreciated the ridiculously satirical depictions of infidelity and vanity, as well as of the careless powers-that-be. The plot didn't take itself too seriously, but still had an edge to it. One also catches a subtle jab at the of injustice of life in undertones of the story where, of all that happens, the worst of it goes to the two most quality guys in the film. One might describe this as a "nice-guys-finish-last comedy," if there could be such a thing.

Far and away the best part of this film was Brad Pitt. In the last couple years he has become one of two or three actors who I always want to see, almost no matter what the film. That one he did with Angelina ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith" was it?) was horrible, but otherwise I can't get enough of his acting. In this movie he was hilarious. In fact, while I can respect the desire not to overdo it or play up the character too much, if he had been the focal point from start to finish I might have given this movie a 9 or 10. What a great role this was. I laughed at almost every single thing this guy did. Oh man. I even laugh at the photo.

Something keeps me from giving this movie more than a seven out of ten though. I think it took me awhile to get into the story, and even though I am not incredibly bothered by swearing, sometimes the cruder elements were less than funny to me. I can't recommend this to all my readers, but if you appreciate the Coen brothers at all I think you will like this one.


matthew a. wilkinson said...

I agree. It was a good film; the best kind of star-system Hollywood film-making. Clooney, Pitt et al. were used magnificently. Also, good call on the uniquely cinematic nature of the Coen's work. Somehow I'd never really thought about that before.

Tony Tanti said...

I can't wait to see this one. Waiting for the dvd though. I'm excited to hear it is as good as I hoped it would be.

Brad Pitt is awesome. Talk about going beyond his "pretty boy" image the last few years.

Knotter said...

i'll be in line for the dvd too. i was impressed by no country for old men, so i hope this one delivers.

but as for dissing mr and mrs smith, i don't knwo how you could find anything wrong with that masterpiece.

jon said...

oh knotter, that movie was offensively horrendous!

matthew, you can thank my brother jeff for that point about the coens. it has helped me appreciate their movies even more.

another point about the type of humour: for all the funny lines in big lebowski the thing that made me laugh the hardest and loudes was when the dude smashed into the dumpster with his car. something about it was just so insanely funny, even though it is pretty nondescript when you talk about it.

Steffen said...

i loved it.. john malkovich is just awesome..
and the way they use the music.. amazing..