Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Want You To Burn

The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading is like the funny jokester cousin of their Oscar-winner No Country For Old Men. While Country is more linear and Burn more convoluted, the two movies mirror a lot of what the Coens often touch on: crimes are committed, bodies pile up, bad things happen to good people, people may or may not get away with murder, not everything or everyone always makes sense, and life is random. In Country a suitcase full of money fuels the narrative; in Burn a disk of a CIA analyst’s memoirs is what triggers a web of mayhem. Half a dozen people are sucked into this mess, and almost all of them end up in varying levels of loss.

Part of the fun in watching this black comedy is seeing a top-notch cast having fun. Brad Pitt in particular has perfected the act of dumb; methinks he has embraced the fact that no matter how hard he tries to downplay or even disfigure his pretty mug, Brad Pitt is still Brad Pitt. George Clooney, on the other hand, has those irritating facial and head ticks that get in the way. It’s as if he’s still trying very hard to convince the viewers to look past his handsome face: “Look peeps! This is my funny face!” Relax George, and take it from your pal Brad—you look good, now forget about it. Frances McDormand’s single woman neediness is so palpable; she makes her character so pathetic yet sympathetic. Tilda Swinton can literally freeze the screen whenever she’s in it; she’s a lot sharper and colder here than as the Ice Queen in The Chronicles of Narnia, and this one’s sans CG. (I wonder if she can pull off a ditsy blonde role.) And John Malkovich keeps his acting ticks mostly in check as the CIA analyst who thinks he’s control but is actually in way over his head; he’s got the puzzled stare of a loser who doesn’t know he is one.

The Coens have always had this bleak view of life in all of their films, even the comedies. It’s interesting that in Country the movie ends abruptly (in a much discussed and debated ending that was only edged by The Sopranos’ similar cut-to-black finale). Burn begins with the camera zooming into Earth from space, and ends with a zoom out from the ground back to the heavens. Life’s randomness is puzzling and abrupt if you’re in it; but if you have a detached view of life, maybe you’ll even find it amusing. God must be ROTFL right now.

No comments: