I had the opportunity this past Friday, September 5 to check out the 32nd Annual Toronto International Film Festival’s Gala Presentation of the Coen Brothers highly anticipated, Burn After Reading. It was a star studded night with actors like Academy Award winner, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins walking the red carpet at the Roy Thomson Hall. The movie started at 9:30pm that evening with a brief introduction from the CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival, Piers Handling on the history the Coens share with TIFF.
Here is my early film review:
Last year the Coen Brothers terrified audiences with No Country For Old Men and the portrayal of mad man, Anton Chirgurh (Javier Bardem) roaming around southwest Texas with a captive bolt pistol and for some, the frightening possibility of a man’s haircut going horribly wrong. However this year, the Brothers decided to give film goers a laugh in Burn After Reading of course though at the expense of much complexities for the featured characters.
In Burn After Reading, the writing and directing team of Ethan and Joel Coen have garnered big movie stars and a slick script that provides laugh-a-minute entertainment in a dark comedy where no one makes level-headed choices. The film cleverly pokes fun at the surveillance governed society in modern day America, the desires to look young in the workplace, serial adultery and of course shameless greed through extortion.
Set in Washington DC, the film travels in four different directions as it follows four very different characters. Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is a scathing CIA agent who’s just been let go from his position of analyst and decides to write his memoirs while occasionally succumbing to his alcoholism while his prim and proper wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton) plans on divorcing him in favour of her neurotic lover, Harry (George Clooney) a sex-addicted Treasury department member.
Soon enough a disc containing important information linking back to Osbourne falls into the hands of Chad (Brad Pitt) and Linda (Frances McDormand) – two very inept coworkers who never think out their next step and have childish self-centered motives. As Chad dances his way through work and modest thoughtlessness, Linda scours online dating sites in hopes of finding true love but is too self-absorbed to realize her boss, Ted (Richard Jenkins) has fallen victim to her charm. It’s most convenient that at the time of discovering the disc, Linda’s obsession with plastic surgery is drawing to a halt as she needs money to perfect herself and live up to her job at Hardbodies, an exercise gym. Chad takes the opportunity to blackmail Osbourne with the help of Linda much to Ted’s disapproval and it’s the phone call that Chad makes to Osbourne one night at Linda’s that provides the twist in the plotline with much pointless trouble ensuing.
The beauty of a Coen Brothers film especially in a dark comedy is that they’re clever writers and it’s noticeable. They can envision the movie before it’s even filmed and with the finished product, they distract the audience with laugh out loud humour and then slam the brakes really hard and shock you in a way that’s unfathomable. Much like No Country For Old Men, characters in this film get killed for no reason. It’s shocking and makes you gasp aloud but then from the decisions the characters make, you’d sort of figure.
The film’s sharp lines delivered from Malkovich are something to really love as his acerbic tone and attitude spell for a memorable role. The nutty neuroticism from Clooney, who clearly still has that “George Clooney charm” even if it’s just one third of him and two thirds of an uneasy horny serial adulterer is strangely (and funnily) enough someone who enjoys going for a run after engaging in sex with several women who are not his wife (besides involving himself with Swinton’s character, he plays a little bed swapping with McDormand’s character). Francis McDormand is most outstanding as the surgery-obsessed gym employee but is fierce in her actions when she wants something. She makes it clear even without coming off callous.
Brad Pitt is a vital character to the plot of Burn After Reading even though he comes off as dim wit. The film’s plot builds off of his actions and this film could by far be one of Brad Pitt’s most amusing roles as he gets a lot of the funny stuff. He comes off as a sweet and caring gym employee who goes out of his way for his friends, that being Linda but doesn’t allow time to think things through.
Something the audience should look out for is the performances by David Rasche as the CIA officer and J.K Simmons, as his superior. The banter between the two is exceptionally hilarious especially as being watchers of the State they are most confused with the peculiar behaviour concerning murder, extortion and an attempt to leak Osbourne’s files to the Russian embassy.
The film is by far one of the funniest the Coen Brothers have created with brilliantly witty dialogue and nicely shot suburban neighbourhoods that give off that creepy “look over your shoulder” notion. The Coens make everyone in the film suffer in some sort. They’re all suffering some sort of mid-life crisis and work in a malicious environment to benefit themselves.
With the Coens assuming the roles of visionaries, they give each actor in the film a very interesting and special personality with a lot of distinction and quirkiness. Burn After Reading is bound to be a favourite among film goers this fall though the only issue with it was that it could have been a bit longer. Perhaps the fact the film was most enjoyable, it went by way too quickly.
Stars: * * * *1/2
“Burn After Reading” opens September 12 nationwide.
Production: Focus Features, StudioCanal, Relativity Media, Working Title
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, JK Simmons
Directed/Written/Produced By: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Running Time: 95 minutes