Friday, 29 August 2008

Venice: Burn After Reading

For their follow up to their Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, the brothers Coen, Joel and Ethan, are back in darkly comic territory familiar to fans of The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, returning with their Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother star George Clooney for the final instalment of what they fondly refer to as Clooney’s trilogy of idiots. Part sex farce, part social commentary, part spy movie, Burn revolves around the sexual shenanigans of several Washington DC residents and a missing CD of what is purported to be sensitive material but is really nothing of the sort. The result is occasionally very funny and frequently extremely black but is missing the spark that would elevate it onto the list of classic Coens - that said, a lesser Coen is, to my mind, better than almost anybody else’s work. Clooney (wearing his Syriana beard) plays Harry Pfarrer, a bed-hopping Federal Marshall who is engaged in an affair with Tilda Swinton’s paedotrician Katie Cox whose foul-mouthed CIA analyst husband Osborne (John Malkovich) has just been fired and is determined to write an explosive memoir as a rebuke to his former bosses. Meanwhile, Frances McDormand’s gym employee Linda Litzke is desperate for plastic surgery when a CD containing supposedly sensitive information turns up in a locker room and together with fellow employee Chad (Brad Pitt hamming it up in lycra a side-splitting comic performance) attempt to blackmail Osborne before trying to sell the disc to the Russian.

Meanwhile, Clooney’s Harry meets Linda via an internet dating site and the plot takes another even more convoluted comic turn before running out of steam towards the end, by which point at least one major character has died and the feelgood factor kicks in somewhat. Beneath the screwball comedy and shameless mugging, the Coens are, however, clearly making some serious points about society today - every character is undergoing some personal or professional crisis and desperate for a change, while Swinton’s Katie is angry at everybody - as well as the perils of internet dating. JK Simmons contributes a droll cameo as a sweep-everything-under-the-carpet CIA boss while the contraption Clooney’s character knocks up in his basement as a “gift” to his wife has to be seen to be believed.

1 comment:

Gerard said...

Completely agree with your "lesser Coens still tends to top just about everyone else" call. And I'm glad you seemed to enjoy this, even if it doesn't scale the lofty heights of their very finest efforts. Thanks for the review - can't wait!