Publisher's note: As redundant as a pacing lost soul, I am loathe to admit, Wyatt is probably our most read writer. Over a month ago, March 12, 2012, I was perusing our sister publication, Better Angels Now, and I noticed that so many of Wyatt's reviews, of the many fine films that occupy the public's interest, have not been availed to our readers through our Beaufort County Now publication.
Consequently, over the next many weeks, possibly months, we will endeavor to remedy this mild injustice by publishing these reviews, in our current improved format, for your edification. Here below is our fifteenth in a series of these older articles of interest by our good friend, Wyatt Sanderman Day.
The Coen Brothers Create a Dark Comedy from the Annals of the Inane
"Burn After Reading," the latest edition in Ethan and Joel Coen's offbeat and often distinctive films: some comedies, some dramas, some from another world of intellect, was exactly what I expected - overwhelmingly eclectic. I have learned to be careful to keep a keen eye and an open mind when I spend time with the Coen Brothers. "O Brother Where Art Though" will probably become a classic film for a variety reasons, not least of which is its original and indigenous soundtrack. Oscar winner "No Country for Old Men" is an extraordinary film, but was it the best film of the year in 2007?
"Burn After Reading" certainly isn't the best film of the year, but at 96 minutes of runtime it is a compact, well crafted dark comedy that is entertaining and definitely worth one's time to discover the nuggets of humor. The Coen Brothers are good at comedy and the blacker the comedy the better. This film enlists a bevy established actors, many of them have a history with the dark side of the Coens. Their old standby George Clooney, as the sex addicted Harry Pharrer, a life long bureaucrat in the Department of Treasury and US Marshalls, was fidgety, funny and the butt of his own joke - his life. His role is in part reminiscent of his Everett from "O Brother:" fidgety as the leader and extraordinarily talkative. John Malkovich, as CIA analyst Osborne Cox, finds that life as an intelligence bureaucrat can have its downside. He does not take demotion well from the position of analyst and finds solace in drinking himself into a daily stupor. Both are on a path of career breakdown, while everyone else in the story are hanging on by such a slim thread.
The nexus of the story is the Hardbodies Gym, where Brad Pitt as Charles Feldheimer and Frances McDormand as Linda Liztke are personal trainers, and their entanglement within this haphazard web begins when they find a copy of Osbourne Cox's rather uninspiring memoirs in the ladies locker, inadvertently left by his secretary after a workout. The impetus that engages these series of events is the finding of Cox's memoirs, that Charles and Linda think are a valuable commodity if sold to the proper bidder. This is where it gets interesting and true to the Coens' modus operandi, the exploits of the personal trainers become the undoing of many characters and becomes the better part of their narrative.
And therein resides much of the humor in this actor / character driven story. All of the characters believe that they are extraordinary people living a life that is well beneath them, when actually they are all very ordinary people caught up in a chain of extraordinary events. Part of the humor is that as these events occur and their lives unravel before them, these self-important people do not hold up very well.
Good acting is a necessary component in character driven movies and this film is absolutely true to form. Tilda Swinton portrays Osbourne's estranged wife, Katie, Richard Jenkins portrays the manager of Hardbodies Gym and J. K. Simmons as the head CIA officer are all convincing and round out a very suitable cast.
"Burn After Reading" is probably not the best of the Coen Brothers library, but it is certainly a good film and as it has been my experience with the Coens, as it is with Wes Anderson's films, one should not judge them too quickly lest one misses the point altogether. Considering this truism and that inane dark comedies tend to fall flat or have terrific shelf life, I reserve the right to revisit this film and change my rating of 3 1/4 stars as I may at some point in the future need to change my point of view. Right now I can only say see the film - make your own opinion.
Released on DVD December 16, 2008. Rated R.
This post appears courtesy of our sister site, Beaufort County NOW, with their expressed permission.