Burn After Reading (2008, Coen Bros.)

If you go by the IMDB date of original release, nearly all the 2008 movies I’ve seen have sucked. Good stuff like My Blueberry Nights, Paranoid Park and The Edge of Heaven count as last year’s movies. Why is there always a year delay on quality movies, while crap is available immediately? And why do I ask questions on a blog nobody reads?

I never intended for the new Coens comedy to be lumped in with the 2008 crap, but there you have it. This would probably be below Intolerable Cruelty in their pile of late-career misfires, but I’m not about to rewatch that one to find out for sure. Katy “detested” this movie. I thought it was pretty okay, watchable for a few good performances and favorite actors but certainly not for story or humor. I heard this was supposed to be a comedy, so where was the funny?

Plot rundown so I don’t forget everything and feel compelled to watch this again soon: Bearded G. Clooney has seemingly good relationship with wife, but he’s also a huge sex addict, sleeping with Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, so his wife has hired private investigators to catch him (which is not too hard). John Malkovich is a gov’t flunky who is getting demoted at work and divorced by wife Tilda Swinton and locked out of his house and bank accounts. Frances McD works at a gym with Brad Pitt and wants surgery to look younger. An energetic Pitt accidentally gets a disk of Malkie’s private files and tries to blackmail him with Frances in tow. When blackmail fails, Pitt breaks into Malkie’s house to get more files to sell to the Russians, and is memorably killed by Clooney. Pitt/Frances’ nice boss visits the house trying to help and gets killed by Malkie. Then some bunch of mid-rank government fellas puzzle over what has happened, and tell us about some stuff we did not see, then end the movie with a big godlike zoom-out mirroring the zoom-in at the start, either to show us how far above this story the filmmakers consider themselves, or to point out that nothing of significance actually happened.

Music, recognizably, by Carter Burwell. Good cinematography by Coen newbie Emmanuel Lubezki, who just finished shooting two of the most amazing films of the decade, The New World and Children of Men. Lubezki keeps the film looking alive even when it’s set in a series of depressing buildings (a gym, McDormand’s apartment, government offices), and adds touches of comic terror to the scenes of Malkovich obsessing on his boat or Clooney getting paranoid in the park. He does all he can, I guess. Everyone did all they could… it’s a high-quality production with good acting, but to serve an empty story. The Coens think it’s hilarious to create an amoral world populated by a couple likeable people, then have the rest of the cast bloodily murder those likeable people. I’m aware that they’ve done this plenty of times before, but when the story is tight (Miller’s Crossing, Man Who Wasn’t There) or the humor is funny (Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona) I give their sociopathic tendencies a pass. Not here, bros. Better luck next time.