Burn After Reading


How do I love the Coen brothers? Let me count the ways:

I don’t love every single one of their movies, but I still think that all of them are inventively and stylishly crafted. I love how they clearly know cinema inside and out, how they can tackle just about any genre and deliver. And they hardly ever just go for one genre and do it straight, they’re always throwing in all kind of different elements into the mix, including a generous dose of that uniquely Coen sauce. So you’ll have comedy married with tragedy, nods to film noir, screwball or Westerns, maybe a musical number, inevitably some outbursts of violence and mayhem… In short, pure cinema, whatever can generate laughter and sadness, fear and excitement, wonder and whatever else.

I love how, in “Burn After Reading”, their funniest movie since “The Big Lebowski”, they’ve decided to make their first espionage thriller, complete with trips to the CIA headquarters in Langley, leaked intelligence, growing paranoia, people crossing over to the Russians (so what if the Cold War is over!), stakeouts, blackmail, cover-ups… All of which is shot, cut and scored exactly like the real thing, which makes it ever more funny and effective when the Coen decide to go off track, which is most of the time!

I love how, in as much as they’re being faithful to the basics of the genre, they also make it feel offbeat and unconventional by populating it with, to use their own expression, knuckleheads: John Malkovich‘s CIA analyst is an angry drunk, his wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is a “cold stuck-up bitch”, George Clooney‘s federal marshal is a sex hound, and the whole thing is set in motion by, of all people, a pair of Hardbodies Fitness Center employees hilariously portrayed Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt, to the great dismay of Richard Jenkins‘s gym manager and the utter disbelief of J.K. Simmons‘s CIA director.

I love how, no matter how ridiculous and over the top things get, an undercurrent of pathos always remains, what with almost all of the characters being middle-aged and filled with regrets (Pitt’s clueless doofus being the exception), dealing with aging bodies, failing marriages, the fear of growing old alone… That, and getting out alive of the spectacular clusterfuck the movie throws them into! You might notice that I didn’t give you a straightforward plot summary, but that’s because a Coen brothers movie is hardly ever about going from A to B, it’s about endless unexpected twists and turns and tangents, which you should discover for yourself.