Burn After Reading: Forget After Viewing?

We are great fans of the Coen brothers and enjoyed Burn After Reading a lot. Hard to say whether it’s a spy thriller or a lifestyle comedy. Let’s settle for social satire.

The film has a stellar cast. The actors walk through their roles with ease, with few surprises.

George Clooney amply fits his public persona – sex addict and loving it.

Joel Coen’s partner, Frances McDormand, has her customary touch of zany obsessiveness. This is her sixth movie with the brothers, including her Oscar winning role in Fargo and the very special Raising Arizona. She holds this film together.

John Malkovich does what he is best at – the nasty, manic, egoistical elitist.

Richard Jenkins does victim so well. He is an even more sensitive and gentle male than his character in The Visitor, and more naïve.

Tilda Swinton and Elizabeth Marvell as the not-so-innocent wives give very convincing performances.

The only exception is Brad Pitt whose comedy role is very funny and unexpectedly so. His almost slapstick performance embellishes his failed-man-of-action character. The film’s long title of “Intelligence is Relative” could well be applied to his character’s I.Q. He’s certainly no match for the CIA and that’s no mean feat in this movie. George Clooney’s dildo humour doesn’t live up to Brad’s visual gymnastics. I couldn’t decide if it was locker-room stuff or a send-up of it.

The minor characters are Hollywood stereotypes: unethical lawyers and the inevitable intelligence-challenged secret agents.

Unfortunately the plot is not as strong as Brad’s acting. But the film’s mixture of soft satire and increasing violence help to bring about the required suspension of disbelief and engagement with the story. At least until you leave the theatre wondering where the Coen Brothers are heading. It’s very mainstream Hollywood in too many ways. Tarantino meets Ridley Scott, but without many original insights or filmic techniques.

It’s not a deep experience but it pokes fun at modern America in a range of winning ways. The body obsession: makeovers, cosmetic surgery, the gym culture (even Malkovich works out towards the end). Conspicuous wealth and consumption. The jogging and divorce circuits. Online dating is important for these people who are so self-obsessed that they can’t connect in person.

Central to the plot is the new media focus – the memoir. Where would Oprah and talk radio be without the true confessions of former spies, diet freaks, reformed addicts, and self-improvers? If you haven’t written a book, you’re nobody.

Like many of the characters, the film is hyper-active. It packs a lot into 96 minutes, with George and Brad spending a lot of the time running.

Haven’t seen Body of Lies yet but the shorts indicate that the title could be swapped with Burn After Reading. My greatest disappointment was that it was so lightweight. It could be a case of Forget After Viewing.

Kevin Rennie

Original post at Labor View from Bayside

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4 Responses

  1. Kev, I loved Fargo. A top movie.

    Might catch Burn After Reading on DVD by the sounds of things..

  2. The cinema experience is always better. Rarely hire a DVD. Mind you I get it at Seniors discount these days!

  3. Fargo: Good, though perhaps a little overdone. Liked the canadian jokes, but I guess they’re funnier for the yanks *shrug*

    I’ve heard good things about Burn After Reading… Ten years ago, I would never have thought Brad Pitt could make a decent actor!

    Something (unrelated, but funny) to share my wife found for me:
    http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=8HE9OQ4FnkQ

  4. Margaret: 4 stars
    David: 4½ stars

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