Burn After Reading: Burn Before Seeing

burn after poster Burn After Reading: Burn Before SeeingSeen the commercials for Burn After Reading? The film seems like it would be genuinely funny. Although, what’s with the dead body sticking out of the closet?

That’s the corpse of what could have been.

Before I get specific, I should probably lay down my barometer for Coen brothers movies. In my opinion they have made two great films. O Brother Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men. Comedy and drama. Two genres as distinct as motor oil and chocolate syrup.

While I have seen nearly every other one of their movies, they almost all have the same flaw—severe schizophrenia. They are creatures that can’t settle on one personality, and suffer because of it. Kind of like Lindsey Lohan, Tom Cruise, or Kanye West. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Intolerable Cruelty got all liquored up and chased me down the highway, or if The Man Who Wasn’t There converted to the First Church of Afterbirth Eating, ahem, excuse me, Scientology.

Burn had the potential to be every ounce as funny as O Brother. Brad Pitt is as hilarious as he seems in the previews. His crack-like addiction to his iPod was something familiar to pitt burn Burn After Reading: Burn Before Seeingmost of us, and his ignorant enthusiasm made his every scene pop. J.K. Simmons, who many of you know as Juno’s dad or The Closer’s boss, or Spider-Man’s mean editor-in-chief J. Jonah Jameson, nearly stole the film with about fifteen lines. His closing monologue at the end of the film is well written and comedically perfect.

As for Clooney, he was entertaining for sure, but unlike O Brother, and a lot like Intolerable Cruelty, his character was quirk simply for the sake of quirk. It brought a few laughs, but ultimately felt like one of Sarah Palin’s speeches, hollow and programmed.

Frances McDormand, who, shockingly, still has one more Oscar than I do, was tolerable. Still, after seeing her thrust upon me in yet another Coen movie (six altogether), I’m left wondering how many parts she would have snagged had she not been Joel Coen’s wife. I suppose I should just be glad she didn’t show up in No Country, though I would have felt some sick sense of satisfaction had she been another victim of psychopath Anton Chigurh.
burn hatchet Burn After Reading: Burn Before Seeing
As for John Malkovich, no character best sums up Burn than he. The first scene of the film concerns his firing, and his visceral response to his bosses in their office. His lobbing of f bombs and uncomfortable, unbridled rage brought several gut-busting, laughs from the crowd. Imagine those moments on NBC’s The Office. The ones that are awkward yet completely hilarious, now let Steve Carell tell everyone to f-off and run wild with any other combination of expletive he likes.

But quickly his character begins to mope, to soul search. And since I paid seven bucks, I get to watch. Yipp and Eee. After a high energy, comedic start, the movie comes to a grinding halt for about the next twenty minutes (the runtime for this film said 96 minutes, but it felt much more like 120.) And I wasn’t alone. My special friend leaned over and said, “They sure are taking a looong time getting this thing started.”

Sweeping, melodramatic music is rushed in as Malkovich’s character contemplates his future. At first I thought this was meant to be sarcastic, a clever touch by the Coens, mocking the very idea that this could be a drama. But then they do it about ten more times and you start to feel like a visitor to a Pentecostal Church, the only one laughing when the person next to you starts drooling and speaking as if the dentist accidentally deadened their bottom lip.

After the third booming entrance of music, I stopped laughing and quietly thought about how against the grain this mood music seemed for such a film.

The film then continues on and has a hard fought civil war. It battles itself, comedy versus drama, much as I’ve witnessed in other Coen brother movies. Movies that should have spent less energy trying to be so damned smart and nuanced and more simply giving in to where the story and characters naturally wanted to go.

It’s like this. Imagine if O Brother Where Art Thou? murdered one of the main three guys, or if No Country for Old Men had Tommy Lee Jones telling jokes every ten minutes. It wouldn’t have worked. O Brother committed to the laugh and succeeded. No Country committed to a serious edgy tone, and was Oscar’s best picture.

But with Burn After Reading, well-acted and chuckle-packed it might have been, I was mainly left wondering what might have been had this script seen a psychiatrist and figured out what it truly wanted to be in life.

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