2-8 March 2009

March 21 2009 at 9:38 am (The list)

burn_after_reading_movie_poster_onesheet_coen_brothers1Burn After Reading (2008)

I’m going to confess to something now, something that will surely make me seem particularly slow and devoid of any kind of artistic or critical savvy rather than the film fan that I am. For that reason, imagine I’m whispering it in your ear. Here it comes: I’ve never been a big fan of the Coen brothers. To me, there has always been something a bit knowingly cool and clever about them and I’ve always suspected those who put Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Though? and The Big Lebowski on a pedestal to be a bit (gasp) pretentious. If that makes me an imbecile, then at least I’m an honest one. However, it is starting to dawn on me that my critical faculties have over the past couple of years developed to the point that if I were to revisit their films (for I have seen most of them at least once) I would finally see what all the fuss is about. The reason for this is that I found Burn After Reading, which is by most accounts a necessary low point in the brothers’ career, really rather good.


There’s probably nothing in the film that hasn’t been done better in any of their other films. It’s got George Clooney (his third collaboration with the brothers) in the kind of wild-eyed lunatic role that makes him such a joy to watch. It’s got Frances McDormand doing her brash mumsy thing that won her an Oscar for Fargo. It’s also got a few newcomers to the Coen stable, including a slobbish potty-mouthed John Malkovich, perennial ice queen Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt as a hilariously stupid gym instructor and the ever brilliant Richard Jenkins as his pathetic boss. The plot is breathlessly twisty and it does err towards the zany which is perhaps why it hasn’t fared quite so well among critics. Admittedly it is about, as Mark Kermode put it, ‘stupid people doing stupid things’ but that’s what makes it so funny. The brothers Coen are a different breed to the brothers Farrelly, but isn’t ridiculing stupid people what makes Dumb and Dumber so brilliant?


The annoying thing about this little project of mine is that once I’ve seen a film I can cross a line through it in red biro and move onto another one. So when I’ve seen an established classic that I didn’t enjoy I have to just say ‘oh well, you can’t like ‘em all’ and leave it at that. But that won’t do. I thought Taxi Driver was merely average the first time I saw it (although I was probably too young to appreciate it) until I revisited it a year or so ago when its power suddenly dawned on me. I’m clearly going to have to do that with lots of other films too which is going to make the task so much more arduous. I remember enjoying The Hudsucker Proxy the one time I saw it in my teens, and I think Barton Fink is a fine piece of work, so perhaps it’s time I revisited the entirety of the brothers’ oeuvre. Of course, there is plenty of other people’s work that I need to see with fresh eyes, but it’s difficult to know where to start though.


Rating: 4/5


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