Tuesday, February 17, 2009

BURN AFTER READING: Coens' Noir Comedy

BURN AFTER READING (farcical comedy)
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Time: 96 mins
Rating: * * * (3 stars out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? For many people, the Coen Brothers are an acquired taste. Their movies, like Fargo (1996), Intolerable Cruelty (2004), Paris Je t'aime (2007) and No Country For Old Men (2008), are 'unusual' (to say the least) as they defy and transcend genres. Many are structured like jigsaw puzzles that viewers have to fit together to form the big picture.

Movie critics love their 'film noir' (black comedy) style and now more and
more cinemagoers are looking out for their movies, especially after Joel and Ethan Coen won the Oscar for directing No Country For Old Men.

Burn After Reading has been nominated for some Golden Globes and BAFTA awards but has come out
empty-handed. That is not surprising considering that it plays like an Inside Hollywood joke for the Coens' croonies and fans. Well, the movie even stars George Clooney, an inner circle buddy of the Coens, and Frances McDormand, Joel's wife.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? We can say that Burn After Reading is the Coens' potshot at the CIA - but that would be too simplistic.
The brothers also poke fun at Internet dating, divorce and adultery. Let us liken it to 'rojak cinema' - where different people and events are thrown into the mix and left to generate their own spice and stench.

At the start, we have Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA analyst who gets demoted over his drinking
problems. He quits, writes a memoir and gets even more estranged from his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) who is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (Clooney), a federal marshall and serial adulterer.

Somewhere downtown, fitness gym worker Linda Litzke (McDormand) is seeking ways to pay for her
plastic surgery. When a disc with classified information is found in the gym, Linda and her colleague, Chad (a young-looking Brad Pitt), figure that they can sell it back to the owner - or to the Russians - for a fortune.

HITS & MISSES: Every Coen Brothers film involves two elements: money and death. And this one is no different. Like in No
Country For Old Men, death is trivialised and randomised - and there is even a sense of perverse fun to the proceedings. Clooney's Harry proudly shows off his gun to his dates - and goes for long runs after sex. Can he be parodying his character in Syriana here? We can't tell for sure.

McDormand, who won the Best Actress Oscar for Fargo, prefers a rather low-key approach and gives her
lonely Linda a suitably credible treatment. However, the funniest scenes come from Brad Pitt's Chad who is more of a caricature than a character. Chad is so dim-witted and energetic that we get dizzy just watching him, especially in a sequence where he tries to blackmail Osbourne.

THE VERDICT: Burn After Reading may not be a riot but it should tickle the fancy of any Coen Brothers fan.


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