Saturday, October 25, 2008

Burn After Reading (Rhoades)

‘Burn After Reading’ Is Idiotic Spy Comedy

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

You’d think this was the casting for Oceans Fourteen or Fifteen – a movie featuring both Brad Pitt and George Clooney. But actually it’s “Burn After Reading,” the latest genre-bending outing by the omnipresent Cohen Brothers.

Directors Ethan and Joel Cohen deny they consider genres in picking their movie projects. But their filmography reads like a movie buff’s tour of Blockbuster’s shelves.

“Blood Simple” was an homage to Hitchcock suspense films. “Raising Arizona” was a slapstick comedy. “Miller’s Crossing” was a great gangster film. “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” was a modern Greek classic. “Intolerable Cruelty” was a romantic comedy. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” was a black-and-white look at film noir. “Fargo” was an award-winning crime drama. “No Country for Old Men” was an Oscar-honored neo-noir thriller.
And “Burn After Reading” – which opens today at the Tropic Cinema – is a spy story. Albeit, a funny one.

Seems a disc containing the memoirs of a CIA agent falls into the hands of two doofuses who attempt to sell it. Bad move.

The Coen Brothers have assembled a great cast here. In addition to Pitt (“Mr. And Mrs. Smith”) and Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), you’ll encounter John Malkovich (“Being John Malkovich”), Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), and Frances McDormand (“Fargo”). All of them either Oscar winners or nominees.

Malkovich takes on the role of a disgruntled CIA agent and Swinton is his soon-to-be-ex wife. Personal trainer Pitt and gym manager McDormand find the agent’s memoirs and hatch a cockamamie blackmail scheme. Clooney is an oversexed federal marshal who gets drawn into the plot because he’s both sleeping with the CIA agent’s wife and having an online affair with the gym manager.

As Joel Coen explains it, “The film is about the culture of the Central Intelligence Agency and the culture of physical fitness in Washington, D.C., and what happens when those two worlds collide.”
Clooney says, “I’m a guy that goes around killing people. It looks really fun. This will be my third idiot. The Coens call it my trilogy of idiots.”

“George loves to play idiots for us,” Ethan Coen elaborates. “We called wrap on George’s last shot and he said, ‘All right, that’s it. I’ve played my last idiot.’ So we told him it was sad that he wouldn’t be working with us anymore.”

Brad Pitt didn’t escape the idiot fate either. “I think that’s pretty safe to say, yeah, it’s a dueling idiots movie,” laughs Joel Coen.

As Pitt tells it, “I said to them, ‘I don’t know how to play this, I mean, he’s such an idiot.’ And there was a pause and then Joel goes, ‘You’ll be fine!’”

Malkovich adds, “No one in this film is very good. They’re either slightly emotionally or mentally defective. Quirky, self-aggrandizing, scheming. Nobody’s particularly bad in it, but the guy I play just has a very bad drinking problem. He’s an analyst in the CIA, fired because he has a drinking problem. It’s a good cast, funny people, everybody has a good part and kind of unexpected ones.”

Ethan and Joel Coen work so closely together they are known as “The Two Headed Director.” The brothers are one of only two collaborating director teams to ever win an Academy Award for Best Directing (the other being Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins for “West Side Story”).
And Joel is the only person ever to direct his wife in an Academy Award performance (Frances McDormand in “Fargo”).

Raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, older brother Joel saved money from mowing lawns to buy a Vivatar Super 8 camera, and together they remade movies they saw on television. Thus, Cornel Wilde’s “The Naked Prey” became “Zeimers in Zambia,” featuring a neighborhood kid named Mark Zimering in the title role and Ethan as a spear-carrying native.

Joel spent four years in the film program at NYU while Ethan got a degree in philosophy at Princeton.

Their first film together was “Blood Simple,” a suspense tale about a man hiring a shady detective to kill his wife. Filmed in Texas, my friend Karen Prince (now a ranger at Key West’s Wildlife Center) worked on the film, building sets, fetching lunch, and serving as an extra.
As she remembers the experience, “The Coens had no money, none. I’d walk across the scene wearing one shirt, then walk back wearing another shirt, so it looked like we had more people in the movie.”

Budgets are bigger these days, but the Coens haven’t changed all that much. Film crews say you get the very same answer no matter which brother you ask.

The next genre they plan to tackle? Coming up is “Hail Caesar,” a period comedy about a theater troupe that’s putting on a Shakespeare play – not to be confused with “Hamlet 2.” And despite his grumblings about idiot roles, George Clooney is set to star in this one too.

Also in the works is a spaghetti western. “We’ve written a western with a lot of violence in it,” says brother Joel. “There’s scalping and hanging ... Indians torturing people with ants, cutting their eyelids off. It’s a proper western, a real western, set in the 1870s. It’s got a scene that no one will ever forget because of one particular chicken.”

Maybe in that one Clooney will be playing the chicken instead of another idiot? That’d be a cackle.
[from Solares Hill]

No comments: