Burn After Reading: Deceptively Incoherent

The face that starts it all.

The epitomy of insecurity.

It’s like the good old days when all of the big star names would get together to make a nice bit of nonsense. Everyone here is great. J.K. Simmons, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins…and yes, more. Sometimes I wonder if the Coen Brothers just like to make movies with big stars just to show us they can. We all know that’s not the case.

As Antonio says, “I’m far more serious than my custom.” So are the Coen Brothers.

While watching Burn After Reading a song popped into my head, Eleanor Rigby by The Beetles. It’s a song about lonely people, Burn is littered with the people of this planet that are so lonely and depressed they don’t know how to not dig themselves into a whole. The insecurity factor in this film is so high the first place I walked to when the movie finished was a mirror in the men’s room to tell myself how great I was. Everything in this film – each action and reaction is based on the character’s inabilty to cope with their own decisions…so they make worse ones. It’s really quite amusing to watch, only because I see a lot of them in me.

I’m tempted at this point to describe a bit of the plot, but I really don’t want to. From beginning to end (outside of a few moments in the trailer) I really had no idea what was going to happen next or what the movie was about, and they do a really great job giving equal weight to each of the characters. Allowing each of them wonderful moments, moments that you think will take you in one direction, only to be sideswiped by another one of the characters minutes later.

It’s impressive that the Coen Brothers know how to make even the most mudane of practices, like exercising, ominous and forboding, sometimes violent. And with Carter Burwell’s score, that could have been lifted straight out of select scenes from Fargo, we know we’re walking in similar territory.

I remember when No Country For Old Men came out last year, everyone said it was a companion piece to their other Oscar winning film Fargo. Why did they say that? Because it was about a bag of money? The problem with this comparison is that the characters in NCFOM are all metaphors for something that’s bigger than humanity. The characters in Fargo were real, every day characters trying to deal with every day situations that in their hands got out of hand. From this perspective, Burn After Reading, seems far more logical a companion to Fargo than NCFOM ever did.

These are just the characters in the movie I’m speaking of. These living and breathing depressives looking for anyone to love and pay attention to them. But the film is about a little more than these characters. It’s about information, or the lack there of, and the intelligent, or lack there of, decisions that are made with what little information is had. It’s a dark screwball comedy. And it’s one of the funniest moments in the movie when we find out who is the most clueless. And most telling when we find out just how little they care.

As writers and directors Joel and Ethan have become so patient in their storytelling ways that everything is handled with a certain level of grace and non-pandering not practiced by any other filmmaker today. They could have spent the whole movie nailing us over the head with what it takes them one scene to say, and they cleverly construct the whole movie so that that single scene is probably the most brilliant one I’ll see all year. If the rest of the movie wasn’t handled so smoothly I’d say it was a two hour long set up to the best punchline I’ve ever heard. The only way the end can exist is with everything that happens before it.

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One Response to “Burn After Reading: Deceptively Incoherent”

  1. kingdom media Says:

    Brad Pitt can be so funny, as long as he’s not taking himself too seriously… in any case, it’s about time someone made good use of his habitually spastic arm movements

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