If No Country for Old Men was a three course meal, Burn After Reading is a tasty snack. That’s not to disrespect it - by snack I mean something delicious and enjoyable, such as a double chocolate chip muffin or unknown bakery product from Aldi, rather than something worthless like a tic tac or piece of fruit. Like a good snack, BAR is easy to approach, light enough to enjoy all in one sitting but fulfilling enough to stave off hunger for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe you’ll have a lighter tea because of it. Depends on your appetite I guess.
Anyway, after weighty matters in No Country, the Coen brothers return to lighter fare with another dark comedy featuring their favourite Clooney (twitchy and different - the Coens always seem to bring him out of Clooney-isms), Fargo legend Frances McDormand (sparky, superb), a strangely hairless John Malkovich (explosively hilarious), ice queen Tilda Swinton (as an ice queen… but doing it well) and forever chewing Brad Pitt (getting the cheap laughs, but getting laughs all the same).
The plot is too convoluted to even bother to explain, and part of the fun is joining the dots and seeing what picture emerges. While waiting for the dots to cross, the characters wholly engage, each one bright enough to make you want to stick with them until you’re introduced to the next and find them just as captivating. Dialogue, comic facial expressions, twists and turns all pop on screen with confident exuberance, the Coens in comfortable territory and actors given the freedom to let go.
Funny, fascinating and fully digestible on first-viewing, BAR falls under No Country on its score purely for the snack/meal analogy above. While more can be absorbed from repeat viewing of February’s beast, BAR is so cleanly executed you gain everything first-time and lose a richness, a depth, that often accompanies the Coen’s work. But still, Burn After Reading scores an impressive CF2, and threatens a double-whammy for the Coen’s on this year’s CF Top-10. It’s not out until October in the UK, but I’m still smug in New York. Check me out. Smug. And fancying a double chocolate chip muffin.