The Brits feeling ‘Burn’

Posted by · 4:35 am · August 28th, 2008

You’ve surely heard by now that the US trade papers aren’t exactly crazy for the Coen Brothers’ latest, “Burn After Reading,” which bowed in Venice last night. “Arch and ungainly” was one of the less damning descriptions in Todd McCarthy’s review, while Kirk Honeycutt was moderately kinder in calling the film “a minor piece of silliness.”

Which makes the reaction of the frequently grouchy Limey press all the more surprising. They like it, they really like it. The film has gone four-for-four with the major British papers, all of them seemingly welcoming the brothers’ fleet-footed change of pace. The Independent’s venerable Geoffrey Macnab calls it “dark, convoluted, chaotic – and extremely funny,” arguing that the film goes deeper than has been advertised:

The Coens suggest this is simply a story about knuckleheads. But the film offers a damning portrait of a society in which the knuckleheads continue to hold the levers of power. The Coens introduce plenty of familiar, noirish elements. On one level, this is a dark thriller in which paranoia, avarice and sexual jealousy rule. But thanks to the increasingly absurd behaviour of the protagonists,it is also very funny.

The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver is just as enthusiastic, declaring it “a tightly wound triumph,” and suggesting that the Coens’ shift to the mainstream may have its own artistic benefits:

Burn After Reading may also go down as arguably the Coens’ happiest engagement with the demands of the Hollywood A-list – but this bit of career development may also be contributing to a diminishing of their particular film-making strengths. Or perhaps they are simply evolving. The highly-wrought grotesqueries with which they made their name seem well in the past; stars find it difficult to merge with the scenery. For better or worse, their films are now more simply natural to look at and experience.

Over at The Times of London, Wendy Ide is thoroughly amused, commending the filmmakers’ “savagely comic taste for creative violence and slightly mocking eye for detail,” though she caveats her review by citing the film’s lack of warmth. Meanwhile, David Gritten at the Telegraph appreciates the order behind the chaos:

Much of the story is knockabout farce with a random feel about it, but that’s an illusion: the Coens’ script is as precisely crafted and intricate as a Swiss watch …┬áThe end result will probably not mean a return night out to the Academy Awards for anyone involved, yet Burn After Reading is a terrific entertainment: fast-paced, inventive and relentlessly amusing.

I don’t think anyone but the most prosaic of awards analysts was expecting this one to be an Oscar contender. Brad Pitt, whose broad comic performance is singled out even in the grudging reviews, may have a shot in supporting – particularly if he gathers momentum for “Benjamin Button” – though I wouldn’t bet the house on that either. (On a side note, isn’t it weird how many people have forgotten that he won Best Actor at Venice last year?)

Anyway, sometimes a movie is just a movie. Nothing wrong with that.

→ 6 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

6 responses so far

  • 1 8-28-2008 at 7:10 am

    mike said...

    I, for one, am very excited for this film, and hope that Brad gets something for either this or Button (assuming it is deserved).

  • 2 8-28-2008 at 3:49 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    From the script, I feel the only real showcase role is Frances McDormand as Linda Litzke. She has all the best lines, and she bridges the subplots as a catalyst. The onbly remotely sympathetic character too. If there’s a nomination anywhere in this movie, I think it’s hers.

    Maybe the Brit crits just enjoy seeing American’s portrayed as twits.

    I wish somebody would give me a brief primer on UK publications, so I know which ones are the tabloids. (Because even their tabloids are better-written than most American mainstream newspapers.)

  • 3 8-28-2008 at 3:51 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    Make that “Americans” not “American’s”

    See what I mean about shoddy stateside prose style?

  • 4 8-28-2008 at 5:18 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Weirdly, Ryan, no review I’ve read singles out McDormand – Pitt, and to a lesser extent, Malkovich, are hogging all the love.

    As for the UK press, The Guardian (and its Sunday edition The Observer), The Telegraph, The Times and The Independent are the big four respectable broadsheets – even if the latter two don’t have a broadsheet format anymore.

    The Financial Times has a lot of good journalism if you can wade through the business talk.

    The Evening Standard is a middlebrow, unremarkable London-oriented paper.

    To be avoided: The Daily Mail is decidedly right of centre (and lousy to boot), while The Sun and The Mirror are tabloid trash through and through.

    As for magazines, The New Statesman is generally worth a look – not least because it has the excellent Ryan Gilbey on film.

    And of UK film publications, Sight and Sound is, if you can get hold of it, impeccable.

    Hope that helps!