Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jason watches "Burn After Reading"

And the Coen Brothers are solidly back into comedy.  And they're funny--this is more "Big Lebowski" than "Ladykillers".  However, it might be their most deadpan comedy yet.  They've always had a cast of wacky characters, and oddly have garnered more praise by putting their oddballs into dramas like "Fargo" and "No Country For Old Men", when it seems like they should fit better into comedies.  Well, we've got the wacky characters--Malkovich's high-strung arrogant CIA analyst, Clooney's womanizer, Pitt's brain dead gym trainer, McDormand's lonely and body-obsessed gym employee, and several others (Tilda Swinton as Malkovich's cold, cruel wife and J K Simmons as the CIA chief are also excellent).  And they're solidly in comedy-land, but so deadpan (except for Pitt) it's like an experiment to prove they'd work just as well in drama-land.

They're working with common Coen themes--greed, confusion, crazy plans, and misdirection.  In fact, the Coens have done something truly amazing.  They've followed up a Best Picture Oscar with a parody of their winning film.  Spoiler alert.  In structure it's very similar--guy sees a chance to get away with the money, but he fails.  This tie it's played for laughs--even the deaths are funny.  They even mock the ambiguous ending that frustrated so many in "No Country For Old Men".  End spoilers.  It's like they're out to prove they can do anything with their craft, and I for one am convinced.  The Coens are artists in the way that a great auto mechanic can be an artist.  And that's kind of a back-handed compliment, but it's a compliment nonetheless.  What I mean is their greatest strength is their mastery of the mechanisms of storytelling on film.  And in large part their movies are based on playing with and breaking hose mechanisms.  Doing stuff like putting screwball comic characters in a tense drama or playing a bullet to the head for comedy is the cinematic equivalent of Shakespeare inventing words or breaking the rules of grammar.  Shakespeare could do it because he was that good, and so are the Coens (although "The Ladykillers" still sucked)

No comments: