Fresh off their triumphant victories with various awards for No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers Joel and Ethan return to open this year's edition of the Venice Film Festival with a colourful satire in Burn After Reading. Writing this screenplay in between that of No Country's, these two movies couldn't be any more different from each other, one sombre in mood, and this one very much lighter, but no doubt having a chock full of undercurrents flowing throughout its relatively breezy pace.
Watching this movie and sitting through the web of relationships between the characters, would also play on your mind how each of them are linked through six degrees of separation. For instance in Michael Clayton, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton share only one intense scene toward the finale which was quite powerful, but here, they turn into strange bedfellows when their characters Harry and Katie share beds and makes a cuckold out of Katie's husband Osbourne (John Malkovich). Or how the Ocean 11/12/13 collaborators in Clooney and Brad Pitt grace this film by sharing one crucial scene which turns the tide of the mood. It also marks the return of Coen movie regulars Clooney and especially Frances McDormand, having roles in Fargo, Barton Fink and Raising Arizona. And that's already discounting future collaborations with Swinton and Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The list goes on to muddle your mind.
I'm still at awe with admiring the Coen's screenplay for Burn After Reading. Characters get so carefully crafted that they're never one dimensional, each with their own load of problems to deal with, and having almost everyone related in some way to another. It begins in a rather mundane fashion with Malkovich's Osbourne being surplus at Langley, before heading home to prepare for a party of sorts with wife Katie, whom we learn is having an affair with Harry. To have a brief introduction of the main players, we have gym personal trainers in Brad Pitt's Chad, whose colleague Linda (Frances) is having a professional and personal crisis in being too old looking for the job, and wanting to undergo a costly plastic makeover.
Throw in some infidelity amongst the characters, and you have a premise set up for pandemonium when Osbourne's memoirs somehow got leaked, and begins as a catalyst for a series of events that will turn everyone's life topsy turvy, bringing out wonderful performances from the ensemble cast. You'll have rug after rug being repeatedly pulled from under your feet by the extremely mischievous screenplay, while on one hand taking its time to build up some strange tension, and on the other just let everything that could turn into comedy, punctuate their way throughout.
It's a fantastic satire on the state of intelligence of the intelligence gatherers and community in general, where troops on the ground get unceremoniously dismissed despite the good work done because they don't know how to play boardroom politics, where people high up the food chain just want to hear what they want to hear, only the good stuff and none of the bullshit problems, making decisions on fanciful whims to nobody's advantage, sweeping aside anything that could be kept in a closet, or swept under the rug. Ordinary folks too were not spared, with the poking of fun in people's fears in the current environment, as well as blowing things way out of proportion, making mountains out of molehills, thinking that there is value in blackmail.
We know how Brad Pitt can turn out some of the most amazing performances. From the brooding cop in Se7en to the crazed inmate in 12 Monkeys and his action-figure role as Achilles in Troy, I'm inclined to say that his innocent gym trainer role here beat them all. As Chad the simpleton, it's just incredible how his little nuances speak volumes, and one of the most memorable scenes involve those where Chad acts out his "good Samaritan" role, trying to be more than meets the eye, only to great comical effect. The other role that stood out is George Clooney's Harry, who's somewhat of a sexual predator who seemingly enjoys blowing his own trumpet, and cooking up something that would not look out of place in a typical Wong Jing movie, possibly getting the thumbs up for the most innovative device created on film this year to date.
If there's a gripe I have, it's not the fault of the filmmakers. Local distributors here have decided to release this on an NC16, with rumours abound that it was ding-donging between that rating or the M18. While the edits were largely unnoticeable save for a sex(?) scene involving Frances McDormand, the other edits, if there were, could have flew under my radar since they were probably well snipped off with nary an obvious clue where other cuts were made. Oh well, in the name of introducing the Coen brothers to a wider audience then.
That said, Burn After Reading is an excellent watch and comes highly recommended. Don't miss this when it gets released this coming week!