Monday, May 13, 2013

Burn After Reading (2008)

After stumbling upon what they believe to be secret "CIA shit", two vapid gym employees (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) set in motion a chain of events that is guaranteed not to end well for anyone.

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Many reviews of this film discuss how the Coen Brothers make two types of films. There are the serious ones like Blood Simple, Fargo and No Country For Old Men and then there are the wild and crazy cartoon ones like Raising ArizonaO Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Hudsucker Proxy.  Across the board critics seem intent to place this film in the latter category. I think it’s a bit more complex than that.

While the two types of Coen Films share a lot in common, there is always one element that distinguishes one from the other, and that element is menace. In The Big Lebowski nobody is afraid of the nihilists. “No Donny, these men are nihilists, there’s nothing to be afraid of.” On the flip side we have moments like the one in  Miller’s Crossing where John Turturro’s character Bernie Bernbaum pleads for his life in the woods. “Look in your heart!” 

This film is neither fish nor fowl. Just as Washington DC is a weird merger of urban city and national capital, Burn After Reading is a weird merger of the two Coen worlds. This film is a beast all its own and as a result, all bets are off and nobody is safe. Characters once thought of as buffoonish can suddenly become driven killing machines and cartoonish characters can die grisly deaths. Are the Coens' making a statement about the increasingly violent and chaotic world we inhabit? Perhaps. Will this movie leave a fair amount of people angry? Could. Is it funny as hell and worth you time? You bet your ass!

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