Thursday, September 18, 2008

Someone gets burned all right

It's kind of weird to see a woman throw herself on the mercies of a plastic surgeon, encouraging him to find more flaws to fix. This is especially true when she's played by an actress married to one of the directors. That's Burn After Reading for you. Frances McDormand's character, Linda Litzke, is two parts self-loathing to one part obliviousness, although the ratio varies. If her marriage to Joel Coen isn't in real trouble, I think this movie is coming from a place of anger.

And yeah, you find hints of anger throughout the film. It may be less bleak that No Country for Old Men, but that's like saying that Sylvia Plath was more balanced than Sarah Kane. The tone is set at the beginning when the story's only faithful spouse--played by John Malkovich--is fired from his job as a CIA consultant. For all his foibles it's hard to see how he deserves the abuse that comes his way. And mild spoilers here if you feel any affection for any of the characters, you can pretty much count on them coming to a grisly end.

Burn has gotten some critical hostility, probably because of its unusual tone. No one wants to see goofy slapstick go wrong this bad. But while it may not be the best thing the Coen brothers have ever done, it does give evidence that they're still on a roll.

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