Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Burn After Reading (Coen) - A-/B+

I've liked Brad Pitt in many things, but I would've guessed that he's far too preening an actor to be effective in this kind of Coens grotesquerie. Pitt's off-key in a few scenes early on, but man, when the plot kicked in, the dude had me in stitches, no more so than when he "menacingly" began to harass Osssboorne Cox. That scene in Malkovich's car -- where Pitt was all squints and nervous giggles ("You thought that was a Schwinn!?!") -- was pure hilarity.

She'll likely not be remembered in the year-end awards, but one actor with no hint of vanity is Frances McDormand, who isn't afraid to play a truly idiotic and despicable loon. Rest of the cast were equally fine. Though many of the other key actors were doing self-parodies, in the Coens hands, these parodies hit exactly the right key: Clooney's his usual garrulous ladies' man, but what's this top-secret device he's constructing in the basement? And Malkovich is Malkovich, but he's the Coens' mouthpiece here, a Man Who Wasn't There, a bitter misanthrope who finally gets fed up with the "league of morons" he's had to suffer all of his life.

This is the Coens at their most delectably nasty, where the [SPOILERS] two likable characters in the picture meet with grisly ends, and the story evaporates into an air of nothingness as the Coens insist, unfashionably, on the meaninglessness of it all. Predictably, the goo-goo critics hand-wring about the Coens' smarminess and misanthropy whenever they go full nihilist, as they do here. But time has validated this line of Coens Brothers movies (Raising Arizona, Lebowski, Burn), comedies that chronicle chains of destructive events caused by overreaching morons. In this one, especially, the Coens take dead aim at aggressive stupidity. We're talking not just about run-of-the-mill dumbness, but specifically the hyperactive, shoot-from-the-hip inanity of folks who devise crazy plans before pausing for a second for reflection. So you can view this as the Coens' comedic coda for the Bush administration -- what with the stupid actors that botch everything they touch and a government that constructs a hopelessly incoherent picture. But for the Coens, this malady was never just a post-millennial affliction: the Coens have been warning us about these kinds of Alpha-tards for over twenty years now. Maybe it's time that people pay them heed.