Monday, November 17, 2008


I sure am out of step with the critics. I thought NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was mostly bad movie making. But I loved BURN AFTER READING.

Somehow, critics found NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN just too real to not be overly impressed by. While I found it condescendingly over the top in a way that didn’t seem intended, and almost campy in its glorification of evil and violence in a world unable to spot a giant killer with a uniquely bad haircut dragging a giant polished steel something around with him on open roads and through the centers of small cities, stalking and murdering and ramming cars into whatever and never being noticed or able to be identified and so getting away with it.

But here comes this year’s Coen movie, BURN AFTER READING, and because it’s deliberately over the top in ways it telegraphs immediately (merely by casting John Malcovich for one), it seemed to disappoint every reviewer I read, with many of them being especially taken aback that such a fine cast was wasted on a what they saw as a trivial or pointless or meandering plot and two dimensional characters.

Hello! Any of you critics see NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN?

But what can I say, my taste is my taste and theirs is theirs.

There’s also that syndrome working where if I hear a movie is supposedly great and go in expecting greatness I’m often disappointed, but if I hear a movie is not so great or even bad, I go in expecting to be disappointed and am often pleasantly surprised. That was my experience with BURN AFTER READING.

This is the beginning of award-season publicity drives, so I get invitations to screenings and DVDs of some movies in the mail trying to get my little vote for the Screen Actors Awards or for The Writers Guild Awards.

A DVD of BURN AFTER READING was actually Fed Ex’ed to my apartment. So I put it in the DVD player and figured I’d quickly see what the critics were so dismayed over. But instead I started chuckling at what I began to dig as a very entertaining dark comedy.

The plot actually thoroughly kept my interest, its twists and turns offering a lot of surprises and some out-loud laughs. And the ending, for my taste, was perfect.

Everyone in it is terrific too. From the expected greatness of Tilda Swinton doing an even more extreme version of the ice queen she owns, and George Clooney doing the womanizing guy-without-a-clue he does so well, only the extreme version of that, with his buddy Brad Pitt in what I’ve heard called “the mimbo role” (male bimbo) for which he was really trampled on by the critics but I found funny and on the money.

Malkovich even didn’t bother me as he too often has in recent years (I loved him in his early film work, but, full disclosure, I met him twice in Hollywood but he didn’t seem to notice). The Coens use his capacity for self-pitying narcissistic rage so well, he’s a delight to watch.

As is Frances McDormand, who many critics felt was completely wasted in her role as a gym trainer obsessed with cosmetic surgery. But I found her character completely believable, in the context of an over-the-top comedy.

And then the character actors who usually get no attention, like Richard Jenkins. Although after his masterly star turn in THE VISITOR earlier this year and now his supporting role in BURN AFTER READING, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get some kind of nomination.

But also lesser known supporting actors, like J. R. Horne, who gives a tour de force performance as the Tilda Swinton character’s divorce lawyer (more full disclosure, I’ve run into him at auditions, though I don’t know him personally, but he’s always personable and funny).

The best thing about BURN AFTER READING is its skewering of the intelligence community, specifically the CIA. On that level it’s one of the most perfectly targeted satires in recent years.

But I guess if you want a serious expose of CIA malfeasance, like MICHAEL CLAYTON tried to do for corporate evil, you won’t like BURN AFTER READING. But if you want a good laugh at the absurdity of what often turns out to be the lack of intelligence in much secret intelligence, this’ll give you a few chuckles, as well as a few surprises.

Or if you just want to see a bunch of really terrific movie actors having a ball doing a dark comedy (with the kind of abandon and push-the-envelope daring of the 1960s’ “black comedies” as they used to call them, not because of the skin color of the cast but because of the darkness of the humor), see BURN AFTER READING.

No comments: