Burn After Reading (Coen, Coen, 2008)

Burn After Reading, a post Oscar “screw you” by Joel and Ethan Coen, is so focused on the stupidity of its characters, so determined to highlight their idiocy with violence and cowardice, that it’s hard not to get lost in the maddening rhythm. Here’s a film hellbent on weaving plot-lines together like strings of yarn, but only to reveal the inherent inane nature of the Spy film genre and the current intelligence game in Washington D.C. To call Burn After Reading misanthropic would be an understatement. Its dark comedy, and in turn its bumbling characters, are born from such a smug disavowal of “likability” that the whole comes close to alienating the viewer. Even so, Burn After Reading is still damn funny for all these reasons, displaying a clever disregard for conformity long dormant since The Big Lebowski. Also, Carter Burwell’s hilariously menacing score gives Burn After Reading a much needed grounding, putting the constant absurdity into perspective, if only for some brief moments. But the Coens are treading on thin ice. Any further into the abyss of stupidity and their work might become one-note, I dare say inconsequential.

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