Sunday, December 28, 2008

Burn After Reading: Grade C

Burn After Reading (2008)
George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins. Writers and Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen.

The first scene is Malkovich getting fired from the CIA. His sputtering, outraged reaction is comic genius. But that strong opening is about as funny as this comedy gets. Clooney fools around with Malkovich’s wife (Swinton), but ends up in bed with McDormand, who works at a gym with Jenkins and Pitt. All the actors do a first-class job, as you would expect from such talent, but the characters are flat and the jokes clich├ęs. Pitt, who is 45 years old, plays a physical fitness trainer in his early 20’s and that didn’t work for me, although he gave it his energetic all. Swinton’s severe, humorless character is supposed to be parodic, but is only severe and humorless. She copies her husband’s CIA memoir to a CD as evidence in her anticipated divorce (why the memoir and not financial records is not explained). The CD falls into the hands of McDormand and Pitt, who attempt blackmail unsuccessfully. In other words, plot is virtually non-existent, so we must rely on goofy comedy to carry us along, but the jokes are lame, with a few sparkling exceptions. Good acting and a lot of pretty faces carry the movie. If there is a theme, it is a meta-theme, that despite youth-worshipping Hollywood, aging actors still have the liveliness to fill the screen with fun.

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