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|Burn After Reading|
dir-scr Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
with George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, JK Simmons, David Rasche, Olek Krupa, Michael Countryman, Hamilton Clancy, Armand Schultz
release US 12.Sep.08, UK 17.Oct.08
08/US Focus 1h36
Clueless people: Pitt (above), and Clooney and McDormand (below)
VENICE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
A low-key comedy with a high-powered cast, the Coen brothers go for an offbeat vibe with this screwball thriller about clueless people. It's a bit too mannered, but it's also thoroughly hilarious.
Harry (Clooney) is a Treasury agent who's having an affair with a doctor (Swinton) whose CIA agent husband (Malkovich) has just had a meltdown. He walked off his job and started writing his tell-all memoirs, but a disc containing his documents is left in a locker-room. Gym employees Linda and Chad (McDormand and Pitt) figure someone will pay for this information, so they try to auction it to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, Linda is trying to find a man online, unaware that her boss (Jenkins) is in love with her.
The hitch here is that each person thinks they're in control of their destiny, but they're all headed for a nasty surprise. The only person with a cool head is the CIA boss (Simmons) who keeps an eye on the mayhem from his desk. And the story takes turns that are both extremely random and genuinely grisly. It's not as if we care for these people, but life isn't exactly fair in the Coen universe.
The film is so resolutely quirky that some viewers will find it difficult to engage with the characters at all. And the actors all slightly over-play the blind spots, paranoia and the oblivion to the fact that they're at odds with each other. And completely unaware that things could go horribly wrong at any moment. At one point, Malkovich calls them "the league of morons", thinking he's somehow smarter than everyone else.
In this sense, the strongest acting comes from Clooney and Swinton, who both ground their roles with a very different type of steeliness and desperation. Jenkins has the most sympathetic part, and adds lovely touches to his scenes. But we only root for these people because they're so ignorant about what they're walking into. The Coens orchestrate this with their usual expertise: constant laugh-out-loud character comedy and first-rate technical skills. It's an odd mix, but also a clever look at society's excesses, from the desire for a quick fix to a system that places no value on people.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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