Monthly Archives: September 2008

“Did anybody lose their secret CIA stuff? I don’t think so!”

I can imagine that after making the incredibly depressing yet incredibly awesome No County For Old Men, the Coen Brothers looked at their latest crime-caper-gone-awry and said, “Oh it’s good to laugh again.” And laugh we did. Burn After Reading isn’t short on funny, even though it lacks some of the cohesion of other Coen movies like O’ Brother Where Art Thou and The Big Lebowski.

Osbourne Cox is a CIA analyst who quits the Agency after being confronted by his boss about his drinking problem. His wife, Katie, is having an affair and talking to a lawyer about a divorce. At the lawyer’s request, Katie puts all of Osbourne’s financial records on CD, only to lose it at the gym. The disc is found by two employees, Chad Feldheimer and Linda Litzke, who want to use the information to blackmail Osbourne. I don’t know about you, but I bet things don’t work out just like they planned! (Actually I know it doesn’t because I’ve seen the movie.)

What worked. The Coen Brothers are A-list filmmakers, and their movies attract A-list talent. Burn is no exception. Everyone here is at the top of their game. John Malkovich as Tourette’s poster child Osbourne and Brad Pitt as the bumbling Chad deliver the biggest laughs of the entire movie. The always funny J.K. Simmons (who’s great in anything he does, whether he’s barking out orders at the Daily Bugle, or burning swastikas into Beecher’s ass) bows in a hilarious performance as a clueless CIA bigwig. And George Clooney makes men everywhere question their own sexuality.

What didn’t work. There are epic movies, like The Lord of the Rings. There are solid movies, like 3:10 to Yuma. And then there are movies that, for one reason or another, feel like extended television episodes. Burn moves along at a brisk 95 minutes. And while it’s not a direct knock against it, I’ve found that it can be hard to get invested in movies that are too short. The Coens are masters at finding humor in dark situations, and filling their movie with unexpected twists. Burn is no different, but a few unexpected twists may be a little too much for some people.

This was a good movie, and easily one of the summer’s (we’ll lump it in) best comedies, but I can easily think of four or five Coen movies that top it. I give it a B. Take your girlfriend out to see it. Just don’t tell her about all the profanity.

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“For all I know, he’s gone over to the other side.”

An hour into Traitor, I leaned over to my friend and asked, “So, what’s the point of this, again?” The trailor sets the stage for a pretty good action flick. Don Cheadle plays a government operative who’s gone underground to infiltrate a terrorist organization. Jeff Daniels plays his case officer, handling things for him State-side. It’s kind of like The Bourne Ultimatum. As long as we get some good fight scenes with Don Cheadle crushing a guy’s throat with a book of matches, I’m down. Two hours and one, “I guess Muslims are people too.” later, I felt a little disappointed.

(Beware. There be spoilers here.) Cheadle plays Samir Horn, an Army officer working in Yemin who’s trying to, surprise surprise, infiltrate a group of terrorists. But after a string of bombings throughout Europe, Horn’s case officer begins to wonder if his agent has switched teams. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what was going on. Jeff Daniels doesn’t show up until about 45 minutes into the movie, and no mention of Cheadle being undercover is made for about an hour. Cheadle’s helping these terrorists plan another attack on the United States, this one involving a string of explosions on buses across the American heartland. While his handlers would have brought him back in long before, Daniels has cleared any record of him from the books so he can complete his mission, which of course is to meet and kill the terrorist bigwigs. Along the way, two FBI officers, played by Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough, investigate Horn, who they aren’t aware is actually on their side.

Speaking of Pearce and McDonough, it turns out FBI work is a million times easier than I ever imagined, because all Guy Pearce did was spend a few minutes in interrogation rooms, telling people that if they gave him some information, he’d be able to help them out. Not surprisingly, 100% of the time, it worked every time. Neal McDonough stands behind him and says sarcastic stuff. As my friend said, the only things missing were sunglasses and the CSI intro music.

I didn’t leave the theater thinking the movie was bad, just very transparent. Is Don Cheadle in too deep? Are the lines between terrorist and freedom-fighter beginning to blur? Do a few extremists speak for the entire Muslim world? You don’t even have to ask, because all those answers are given to you. After seeing the trailer, I was just expecting a different movie. On the upside, Cheadle’s more than capable of taking on the role of leading man. And Said Taghmaoui performs well as Cheadle’s terrorist friend, who at first distrusts him, but gives him his grudging respect as the two talk about how life is like a game of chess as they, get this, play a game of chess! Now that’s DEEP.

While other movies dealing with terrorism and the Middle East are able to deliver their message much more subtlely (Syriana comes to mind), I was surprised not to see a 30-second “The More You Know” spot after the credits with Cheadle telling the audience how Muslims are as rich and diverse a people as any other. It’s a good message, but loses some of it’s impact when it’s spelled out for the audience. I give the movie a C+. It wasn’t horrible, and I could’ve stood to see Cheadle beat someone up with a box of napkins, or at least a pair of blue jeans.