Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Burn After Reading

Sunday, September 14, 2008

For maybe the first 40 minutes or so, I thought this was going to be another Intolerable Cruelty or Ladykillers, where it's funny and entertaining, but in a who gives a shit kind of way that seems beneath the talent of the Coen Bros. But as it goes along, the movie really builds a comic momentum and a weird kind of intensity. It's not one of their best films, but it's a worthwhile one.

Although critics of the Coens are going to have a field day. I would say that this one is guilty of all the things the Coens are usually accused of: condescention and cruelty towards characters, smugness, nihilism, all that. I tend to disagree with those criticisms, and I'm not even sure they are always a bad thing, but there's no doubt that it's all on display here.

The thing that will really throw some people is, after No Country for Old Men, how frivilous this movie feels. It's frivilous to the point of nihilism. Few movies seem so willing to point out their own pointlessness. There's not even really a "plot," just a lot of confused characters who believe something bigger is going on, when there isn't. The movie graphically, shockingly kills off one of the only remotely likable characters in the movie, then dismisses their death with a couple of offhand jokes. At the end, a couple of mid-level intellegence agents, themselves barely peripheral to the story, discuss the plot and determine that they don't understand what happened or why, that it meant nothing, and it should never happen again.

Hell, the very title of this suggests that it's not something you should dwell on.

Still, even if this is just an exercise in dark humor and ironic style, the Coen's are really fucking good at it, and I can give it a enthusiastic recommendation. It's not a great movie, but it will tide me over until they next time they do make a great one.


Patrick said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you here. This is one of the few Coen brothers movies that had me laughing as much the first time as the Big Lebowski did the second time. And I still think some of the setups, like the slow zooms and tense music when clooney is getting the pieces of his machine, will be funnier the second time. I'll even say that I liked this significantly more then No Country For Old Men and thought not only was the technical style and characterization on par with that movie but that they were also in service of themes just as bleak as NCFOM. The switcheroo in this films ending that changes what most of the movie is about was also better done. It was also funny.
But hey, just as you have you believe that Blade II and the Hellboys are richer and better then Pan's Labyrinth I have always believed that the Coen's comedies are richer and better then any of their more serious pieces. Stinkers like Intolerable Cruelty and LadyKillers exempted of course. Oh and "The Man Who Wasn't There" I have no excuse for that crap. I mean damn.

Patrick said...

Forgot one last thing. I loved how they went out of their way to make George Clooneys wife less sympathetic.