Saturday, December 27, 2008


Lukewarm leftovers

By Edward Copeland
After returning to great form last year with both No Country for Old Men and their contribution "Tuileries" in the short film collection Paris, je t'aime, it would be mean to expect the Coen Brothers to immediately surpass their 2007 achievements. With Burn After Reading, they certainly don't. If "Tuileries" was an appetizer and No Country a baked ham dinner, Burn After Reading is the ham salad made from all the leftover ham. It's fine for a lunch, but it's really just there to make room in the refrigerator.

The Coens have assembled a cast of regulars and newcomers willing to give it their all in this loony farce and they all come off well, especially Frances McDormand as a fortysomething health club employee who feels she's taken her body as far as she can and is looking for ways to finance multiple surgeries to improve her form.

In addition to the A-listers, one performer who didn't get enough credit when the film originally came out was Richard Jenkins. While Jenkins has earned plenty of deserved praise this year for his fine lead role in The Visitor, he is equally good in his funny supporting role here as the concerned health club manager with a secret longing for McDormand's character.

As for the story itself, it's just an excuse for manic goings-on as the various characters played by McDormand, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich mainly cross paths regarding what is essentially a MacGuffin: a computer disc containing a manuscript for a book by ex-CIA agent Malkovich which Pitt and McDormand mistakenly believe contains classified information.

While everyone gives it the old college try and the story is abstract enough that you can force whatever meaning you want onto it, it's really just a slight farce.

There are laughs to be had, but Burn After Reading is infinitely forgettable and seems like something that got tossed off until the Coens could think of a more worthy project to make.

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Just in case you do come back, in fact I do not publish anonymous comments, no matter what their content. I used to, but I got sick of them. Put a name on your comment and I will publish it.
It's a rare and beautiful thing to hear honest criticism of this Coens film. I totally agree with your assesment of it.

Also, Pitt is too old to be playing this type of role.

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