Friday, October 16, 2009

Burn After Reading

(Movie Review)

Because I live in Japan, I never even heard of this movie until it hit my video store. But it's another Coen Brothers film.

Now, as I said in my review of "No Country For Old Men", I like watching Coen Brothers' movies, but hate reviewing them, because of the legions of film school students and cinema buffs who are huge fans of these movies and have already critiqued them to death. I'm always worried I'm just going to expose my own ignorance.

So, once again I'm going to try and avoid the temptation to try and sound smarter than I am, and just write some off the cuff honest reactions I felt as I watched the movie.

Assuming everyone stateside is better informed than I am, I guess everyone knows the plot to this film, but I'll recap briefly anyway.

It's a black comedy about a series of misadventures involving bumbling spies, and bumbling blackmailers.
As black comedies go, it doesn't really get much blacker than this. None of the characters are likeable. And (spoiler slert) half of the characters get killed in the end. And the ones that don't get killed, you almost wish they did. (The characters who are the most selfish and who are manipulating the other characters for their own selfish ends are the ones left alive at the end).

As a comedy, I found very little of it laugh out loud funny. But it's one of those cleverly written stories with several different character plot lines all woven together that at least kept me interested as I was watching it.

The best parts of the movie are the discussions in the CIA headquarters. The CIA supervisors know everything that's going on and are keeping track of it, but because of their position they are forced to take seriously a convoluted series of events that they would rather have nothing to deal with. Their deadpan delivery as they talk about the case is just spot on. Brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, and very funny.

But aside from the spy story, this movie is really more about relationships. And it presents a very depressing view of romance.
Almost everyone in this movie gets screwed over in some way by romantic relationship. People in this movie are interested only in what they can get from the relationship, and no one really cares about the other person's needs. Instead, romantic love is presented as something that kicks you when you're down.

One striking example of this is how after John Malkovich's character loses his job, his wife divorces him and puts all his things outside in the rain.

The characters in this movie are often seen watching a movie-within-the-movie "Coming up Daisy". We don't see much of this movie, but just enough to let us know it is a typical romantic comedy.
However just this little taste is enough to evoke the comparison between the typical light-hearted Hollywood view of romance, and the more pessimistic view of romance presented in this film. Which view is more realistic is left up the viewers to decide.

Star studded cast for this film includes George Clooney. Who, for some reason, didn't look at all to me like he usually did. In fact with his beard, and his wide buggy eyes he reminded me of someone else. For most of the movie I couldn't quite place it, until I finally realized he reminded me of Paul Krugman.
I did a quick google search to see if it was just me, or if anyone else thought so as well. In fact there are several web pages with the same idea. Sample results here and here.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky Freedom of the Press
and Our awesome post-racial society
and The anchors are too dumb to realize the police are using sonic cannons, instead referring to it as "an annoying siren."Our America grows more authoritarian by the day, and the election hasn't changed that. Citizens are seen as the enemy, corporate interests are sacred and the police are the ultimate authority, answering to no one. They deploy weapons developed for war zones against civilian populations - and nothing happens.


Whisky Prajer said...

I thought it was another assembly-line Coen Brothers movie: not on par with their most emotionally powerful work, but still astonishing in spots. I can't get over how capable they are of surprising me, and nothing recently has caught me as off-guard as the Clooney character's obscene chair. And I loved Malkovitch's constant "What the fuck?" refrain.

Joel Swagman said...

Yes, I think I'd go along with that assesment (although I'm always reluctant to pass judgement on these films). Not a classic, but enough good points to justify watching it.

Whisky Prajer said...

Or perhaps Burn After Reading is best viewed as prophecy.

Joel Swagman said...

Thanks for the link. An interesting read. I guess add this to the "the Trump presidency has made satire impossible" pile?