Burn After Reading: The Coen Brothers Can Still Do Comedy

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“Burn After Reading” is bound to receive mixed reviews, but I left the viewing not feeling all that mixed up about whether or not I liked it. I laughed and cringed in all the right ways. The film is directed by some very famous brothers, stars very famous names and depicts one of Hollywood’s very popular topics: Washington, D.C. The film sends all its pathetic characters down a spiral of deception, greed, lust and other fun vices for your viewing pleasure. It’s a comedy. It’s fast paced. It’s politics.

If only I had the opportunity to interview the Coen Brothers (who wrote and directed the film), but alas, I write for the “Foghorn.” If I did have the opportunity, I would ask them how they went about choosing their next project after the explosive success of “No Country For Old Men.” But since I don’t, I’ll be assumptive about their decisions. The Coens followed “No Country” with a comedy that is about 45 minutes shorter and must have twice as many cuts. The dialogue in “Burn After Reading” is silly and goofy (reflective of “Raising Arizona” and “Intolerable Cruelty”). The film is not without depth and commentary, but listening to the characters in “No Country” talk is like listening to brilliant philosophers discuss the meaning of life. “Burn After Reading” is drenched in such an over-the-top musical score, it becomes one of the film’s comedic strengths. The movie is at times a political spoof, finding every opportunity to exploit a cliché. The opening credits use the common “Bourne Identity”/ “Enemy of the State”/ “Mission Impossible” computer font with the appropriate digital technology sounds to accompany each contributor to the film. George Clooney’s character owns a Colonial brick house and is addicted to jogging in front of D.C. memorials. Brad Pitt’s character is a health dork that loves Jamba Juice and cycling. The film’s depiction of Russians with their bland suits and undecorated concrete walls emphasizes that this movie makes no attempt to redefine.

Among all these clichés, the Coen Brothers create completely unique characters uncontrollably wrapped up in an original plot. When I watched the Coen’s previous attempts at comedy including “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers,” I thought I was watching the product of unconfident and misdirected filmmaking. Those two comedies were decent but flimsy, and promised more than they delivered. “Burn After Reading” is the groove they were trying to find. Ultimately, the film’s dialogue (John Malkovich delivers expletives in this film with such sincerity it’s music to my ears) and the film’s wrath (don’t forget, nobody tortures their characters better than the Coen Brothers) is an affirmation that the Coens can do it all. If you still allow yourself to be ripped off by ticket prices, “Burn After Reading” will nurse your injured wallets to contentment.

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