Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wha Happened?

Burn After Reading (Joel & Ethan Coen, US, 2008) 2nd viewing

Not much better than my intial viewing experience, which was satisfactory but nothing to write home about. Granted, it has some hilarious moments, and there's a witty little dash of socio-political satire thrown into the mix, but the film is predominantly flat and cold. Okay, screwball is funny, but shouldn't it also be charming, a bit lighthearted? Here, there's major tonal static - we're going along our merry, wacky way through a cartoonified D.C., but then Brat Pitt's Chad gets his brain splatter-painted all over a closet. Are we supposed to laugh off the movie's grim moments as easily as we laugh off Pitt's hair, or Clooney's bug-eyed mugging? This would be an easy question to answer if the film were funnier, more clever, more just plain fun. But it isn't - at least it isn't as funny or clever or fun as it could be - as any true-blue fan of the Coens wants to believe it should be.

Like so much of the Coens' ouevre, it's a gently subversive genre romp, but unlike their earlier work, there's no invention, nothing that feels really vital or sharp. This is becoming a major bummer, since the Coen boys have proved over and over that they've got the goods, seemingly capable of anything when they're in the zone. Who knows what's ailing them - are they tired, lazy, bored, totally out of juice? I'm tempted to make the diagnosis that while they certainly aren't out of ideas, they do seem to be running low on emotional energy to invest in those ideas. That would explain the nagging sense of emptiness one experiences while watching many of their recent movies. But who knows - their next film, which is being billed as their Most Personal (a phrase that, in this context, should itself set off alarm bells), looks as if it has potential.

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