Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton Brad Pitt

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Screenplay: Joel Coen, Ethan Coem

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lebezki

Original Score: Carter Burwell

Running Time: 95 mins.

Very often a film treads that fine line of humour known as ‘quirkininess’. On this premise said film can either excel or fail, quite often miserably. The Coen’s are the master’s of quirky hunour having directed such gems as Fargo and one of my favourite films The Big Lebowski. These films, however quirky the characters, have a twisty turny, often overly complex plot in which a number of ‘out-there’ characters live out their lives becoming inexplicably tangled up in the film’s happenings. Culminating more often than not in a finale that brings together all the initially seemingly unrelated characters.

The problem with Burn After Reading is that it feels too much like a sum of its very mediocre parts, which is a great shame given the pedigree of its stars and directors. Opening with a zoom-in shot to the pentagon it almost feels although your watching something more akin to Enemy Of The State, or this Years Eagle Eye, moments like this punctuate through the film never really melding with what is meant to be funny and somewhat satirical (ie. the CIA is portrayed as anything but intelligent), the only time all these elements truly work together and elicit the laughs they should are in J K Simmons all too brief appearances as a CIA head honcho.

So, in a film chock full of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars it’s a name most will not recognise who has the stand-out performance, something wrong there you may think, and you’ d be right. Brad Pitt has an excellent comedic touch (see Fight Club) as does Clooney, with particulary good form in his past Coen collaberations, but here both stars simply over egg the proverbial pudding! In the viewing iI watched a group of dimwits laughed ONLY at Brad Pitts overtly ‘camp’ scenes, in fact any scene he was in is what that equates too. He’s not bad, it’s just if he had toned it down a bit and not tried so hard to be funny, he would have made both a more rounded character and a fundamentally funny one. Clooney suffers the same problem, but ott in a whole other way, not so much camp but playing against type as a bumbling, sleazy womaniser, again this wouldnt be a problem if the script served him better.

Rounding out the cast are the two female leads, Swinton and McDormand, for the first time ever I found McDormand simply irritating to watch in the stupid character she is given, in fact every one in the film is basically an imbecile incapable of the  simplest thing, the only one who isn’t is Swinton, who turns in her usual ice queen/bitch role, someone give her more to work with … please! And finally there’s Malkovich, who gets to do a mix of stupid and his usual psychotic spontaneousity!

So aside from the lack of acting to recommend the film, what else is there, well thats about it, nothing. The direction is the Coen’s on auto-pilot, and their usual DOP was otherwise engaged meaning it doesn’t even have that typically excellent Coen-like look about it visually! At least the score by regular collaberator Burwell is excellent despite feeling like a fit for a totally different film. All in all a great shame.

VERDICT

The weakest Coen effort yet, and a great shame following the excellent No Country For Old Men. A kooky step too far, with too many excellent films as a barometer it’s hard not to expect much more from the ubiquitous brothers, and the acting talent on show. See it for JK Simmons or if the prospect of Pitt camping it up excites you!

 

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