Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Netflix has been one of the best things I've done in a long while. Aside from getting married. Getting married tops all contenders for the foreseeable future. But Netflix was pretty much a great idea from the word 'Go'. We decided on the two-at-a-time deal, so that she could rent a musical and I could rent a badass documentary and all would be well with the world. Mutual enrichment, broadening of our collective consciousnesses and all that.

BURN AFTER READING is not the Cohen Brothers best outing. Above this one, I'd put NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, RAISING ARIZONA, and probably FARGO (though I've never really had a taste for it personally--this is purely political placement to to pacify all our readers who'll give me the 'Fargo was effing brilliant!' Sure it had William H. Macy, but it didn't do much for me, Steve Buceimi aside.)

The movie centers around Malkovich's character, a mid-level CIA spook, who has been canned, and endeavors to write a memoir about his experience. Madcap antics ensue, and two gym employees (Pitt and McDormand) come into possession of it, endeavoring then to blackmail Malkovich with it. Throw in George Clooney as a philandering government agent who meets McDormand through an online service, and you've got the making of yet another Cohen film rife with unexpected violence and dark, sick, and shocking humor. Like I say, not their best, but on a scale of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN to THE DA VINCI CODE, this one warrants a rating of DUDE WHERES MY CAR--good concept, funny moments, pretty okay execution.

But this film had its moments of pure genius.

Genius Moment #1: the casting of Brad Pitt as a really bubbleheaded personal trainer. This move was brilliant. If you've not seen it, I won't spoil the film, but Pitt's final moments on screen was the most shocking of the entire movie, and perfectly played.

Genius Moment #2: George Clooney as a neurotic, sex-obsessed government drone who smiles way too much. The more I see Clooney, the more I like him. His turn in Michael Clayton was really good, and his character here reminded me of his time as Ulysses Everett McGill in another Cohen Brothers outing. (Addendum: O Brother Where Art Thou? was better than this one).

Frances McDormand's character got a little old for me. I feel like she plays the same character in every Cohen film, and thus, she was almost a liability, except for the fact that she, like Pitt, is completely vapid and perfectly cast. The plot was sufficiently interesting, but not really that gripping. John Malkovich, who I generally like, was angry most of the time. Again, the funniest thing is the violence, and the Cohen Brothers' ability to use horrific violence where slapstick would go in another film, and with shocking effect. It's like they've been hanging out with Chuck Pahluniak, though for my money, the Cohens know how to pull the 'violence-for-dark-comedic--effect" off way better than the aforementioned novelist.

Three trick phalluses out of five.


the hamster said...

fargo was effing brilliant.

i ain't seen this yet. the wife saw it and said she felt a little sick to her stomach afterwards, which of course sealed the deal for me. anytime someone mentions nausea in their review of a film then it suddenly reaches the top of my must-see list.

let me just say, once again, that i love the brad pitt. i don't care that he's better looking that me with his shirt on or off, the guy just does some magic. and i've always wanted to see pitt do more comedy. the dramas are getting old. (same with tom hanks: let's get back to bachelor parties and mermaid flicks, bro.)

also, frances mcdormand is pure gold in my book. i almost rented that pettigrew film just to watch mcdormand. she's amazing.

good review, myles. i'm also a big fan of massive violence for comedic effect. and i'll slap you to prove it.

Vince said...

did you know that you can watch a whole booty-load of movies online with that netflix plan? there are endless documentaries to fill your brain. trust me - i've watched way too many and now know way too much about trivial things. just sayin.

Tiffani R said...

MPMW: I also love Netflix and have the two movie plan. I generally go for one "new release" and one "oldie but goodie" (which sometimes includes musicals and your comment about SMM-W makes me miss my roommate more than ever!). Most recently I received Transformers, Benjamin Button, Get Smart, and Bella (haven't watched yet). But I digress.
I love Pitt and Cloony but haven't seen this flick so I have nothing more to say to you.
KS: I rented the Pettigrew movie (Netflix rocks). And it wasn't bad - I mean, Amy Adams is a cute as a button and Francis is a delightful breath of funniness. I can't remember my ultimate thoughts. I think a 3/5, but a nice little romp.

That is all. Now get back to dissertating and stuff, people!

John Barber said...

Myles, I agree, agree, and agree. After BURN, there was a collective "ok, now what" in the room.

Here's my list of preferred Coens (note: I haven't seen them all, so I didn't include everything here):


Whaddya think?

wonderstuff said...

C'mon, Myles! Fargo was effing brilliant! Macy was good, but McDormand's pregnant "Oh, yah?" cop was priceless!

I was able to see this during our two weeks back in the States, and I agree on Brad Pitt. He was fantastic in this. However, the thing about Burn After Reading that made me smile was that the Coens deliberately told a story of coincidence, mistaken identity, and ridiculous innuendo that makes no sense at all while we, the viewer, follow it pretty well. Hence J.K. Simmons' scenes - the whole, "what the hell is going on?" confusion. Good stuff.

However, I agree that there are better Coen films, my top three being, in no particular order, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, and FARGO!!!