The early reviews of the Coens’ “Burn After Reading,” which opens the Venice Film Festival tonight, are out, and they’re up, down and all over the place.
Todd McCarthy at Variety thinks the film finds the brothers C retreating “to sophomoric snarky mode,” bemoaning the fact that the “seriously talented cast has been asked to act like cartoon characters.”
The Coens’ script, which feels immature but was evidently written around the same time as that for “No Country,” is just too fundamentally silly, without the grounding of a serious substructure that would make the sudden turn to violence catch the viewer up short. Nothing about the project’s execution inspires the feeling that this was ever intended as anything more than a lark, which would be fine if it were a good one. As it is, audience teeth-grinding sets in early and never lets up.
Kirk Honeycutt at the Hollywood Reporter is far more positive, though he does caution that “Those who relish this movie might treat this as the second coming of ‘The Big Lebowski’; those who don’t might wonder at a story in which no character has a level head.”
The key thing is that every actor is riffing on his or her screen persona. The guys who pulled off all those casino heists, the smart-cookie South Dakota police officer, the stars of many Sundance films — yep, they’re all idiots. One of the film’s funniest lines comes when a CIA officer listens to a report of everyone’s behavior, including murder and an attempt to leak the memoirs to the Russian embassy — rather prescient that last plot point! He shakes his head and asks an agent, “Report back to me” — he frowns and pauses — “when it makes sense.”
Lee Marshall at Screen International loves the film, though he doesn’t believe much should be expected from it:
A beautifully produced mix of spy story, US zeitgeist satire and relationship drama, Burn After Reading cons the audience into seeing depths – and Fargo parallels – that don’t really exist. The consumate, near-throwaway ending sets the record straight: it’s a feelgood comedy so enjoy the ride and don’t take it all so seriously.
Andrew Pulver at the Guardian writes that, compared to its star presence at the festival, “[t]he film itself may be a bit of an afterthought,” and that compared to “No Country,” it’s a “bit of a bantamweight: fast moving, lots of attitude, and uncorking a killer punch when it can.”
And for Shane Danielsen at indieWIRE, it’s just fine, and perhaps doomed to be so:
It’s a decent movie, undeniably entertaining to watch, but afterwards you struggle to remember much about it beyond a general sense of fun being had — most of it onscreen. Yet even if it were better, even if it were very good indeed, it would still have its work cut out for it. It will inevitably be compared to the Oscar-winning, life-and-death-weighing masterpiece that preceded it, and found wanting.
[Photo: “Burn After Reading,” Focus Features, 2008]
+ Burn After Reading (Variety)
+ Film Review: Burn After Reading (Hollywood Reporter)
+ Burn After Reading (Screen Daily)
+ A tightly wound triumph (Guardian)
+ Personalities Aside, Venice Follows up on a Masterpiece (indieWIRE)