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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Burn After Reading

I know there are those of you out there that are saying “Miss Clamzilla, please, why nothing about Burn After Reading?” and I will tell you it is only a matter of output, Darlin’s. There were four new movies that opened this weekend at the Essex Cinemas, Sweetpeas, and Ms. Clamzilla is not as spry or as zippy as she used to be. Believe it or not, I spend many hours thinking about what I want to say before I put shaky fingers to the keyboard. I know that probably comes as a surprise to many of you, but I do actually consider the merits of each movies before I trash it. Okay, so you think all I do is pick ‘em apart, but that’s not really true. I like a lot of the movies I see. I just can’t think of any right now, but if you look back at the list on this site there have got to be lots out of the more than 350 I’ve given my opinion about that I raved about, and by “raved” I mean that in a positive way.

One movie I am wild for is
Burn After Reading, but then I’ve never met a Coen Brothers movie I didn’t like (except maybe Miller’s Crossing, which gave me adjida with a cast so fugly even John McCain would be a panty-moistener in that crowd). This gem is a high-octane caper about two dimbulb gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand; Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt; Ocean’s Thirteen) who stumble upon a computer disk containing the memoirs of a disgruntled ex-CIA agent, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich; Beowulf). When Chad tries to innocently wrangle a reward out of Cox for the disk, which the CIA agent has no idea was even pilfered from his computer, the suggestion is misinterpreted as a blackmail demand and, before you know it, Osborne is at war with Linda, Chad, and everyone from the Russian embassy to his own wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton; The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), who has nothing but contempt for the alcoholic ex-agent anyway. Complicating matters is a whole lot of infidelity going on, with lothario Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney; Leatherheads) bedding both Katie AND Linda, unaware of the Cox connection or how Linda’s dangling Chad fits in the picture. Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch in terms of coincidence, but go with it and enjoy the fun.

While there are no wood chippers involved in Burn After Reading as in the most delicious of the Coens’ films, Fargo, there is the same sense of unexpected “Oh no they didn’t!” oddity that you don’t usually find in Hollywood fare. There is one very sudden and unforeseen death to one of the principals that will have you asking the person in the seat next to you if what you just saw actually happened it is so outrageous, but that is what makes Joel and Ethan Coen such entertaining writers and directors. They have no shame and will kill off anybody, no matter how big the star.

Even the smaller roles in
Burn After Reading are filled with recognizable pros, and they bring a great spin to their little pieces of the pie. Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers) is Ted Treffon, the “Hardbodies” gym manager. He may not have much screen time, but with the tiniest of facial expressions he poignantly reveals just how much he loves Linda even though she is completely oblivious to his feelings for her. J.K. Simmons (tv’s “The Closer”) is also on hand as the head of the CIA unit investigating this case, and he is sardonically funny as the recipient of the Burn After Reading story. While the agents below him take this all so seriously, he sees it for the total pile of needless violence and illicit sex that it is, and realizes it is hardly worth making a fuss over the way everyone else has. He is more apt to roll his eyes than gasp over the latest details as they become known to him. It’s all a load of crap one way or the other.

Burn After Reading is all about obsession. Linda is obsessed with her body and sees her only hope for a satisfactory life coming from a series of expensive cosmetic surgeries to fend off the realities of middle age. Harry is obsessed with sex and if he is not exercising vertically he is at it horizontally. Osborne, meanwhile, is obsessed with alcohol and his own self-importance, both of which he has no control over, and Chad appears to be incapable of not working out constantly, as he is in perpetual motion, wired for sound with his iPod in his ears and his head a-bobbing.

Many will think
Burn Without Reading is a letdown after the Coens’ hit from last year, No Country for Old Men, but there really is no comparison of the two as far as I’m concerned. One was designed to be a grim and brooding drama and the other an ensemble farce, which is a signature piece for the brothers, in the same vein as The Ladykillers, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and The Big Lebowski. Coens’ favorite leading lady (and Ethan Coen’s off-screen leading lady, aka his wife) Frances McDormand is the glue that holds the troupe together and if it weren’t for her take on Linda as a somewhat naive innocent in all this mess the harshness of everybody else’s actions (and sometimes her own) would seem distasteful. Fortunately, no matter how foul-mouthed Osborne gets, or sleazy Harry acts, at least there is Linda around to (sort of) balance out their bad behavior. Sort of.

I wish there was more I could tell you about the actual movie itself, but like all CIA operations and extortion plots, it is best that you know as little as possible going in so you can savor the experience at its best. One tiny teaser I will leave you with, Dear Readers, and that is that if you are looking for the most unusual Christmas gift around for a loved one this year, you will definitely find it here when Harry unveils a creation of his own that he has been working on for his wife. It may not be for everyone, but I’m sure if not for Christmas, you might want to keep it in mind for next Mother’s Day. It’s just a thought.

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