Tuesday, July 21, 2009
BURN AFTER READING? EH...RETURN AFTER RENTING
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.