12 September 2008

At the movies: Burn After Reading.

It's no Lebowski, but it's a vicious little gem that has a remarkably consistent fake-out tone; a deadpan farce shot and scored like a tragic thriller. The pleasures are in Richard Jenkins' brokedown dog of a performance, the way John Malkovich wraps his remarkable face around the script's baroque profanities, Brad Pitt's numbnuts enthusiasm and personal trainer pep (he's certainly hearkening back to the Johnny Suede days here), and J.K. Simmons' pitch black-humored CIA chief.

The plot is a typical conspiracy yarn, but nobody's working with a complete sense of the big picture. There's a very real sense of melancholy to the proceedings, because nobody actually ends up being as important as they think they are, and that realization drives quite a few reveals that linger, like the film's more baroquely violent tendencies.

And oh, sleazy, sleazy George Clooney. He's doing something very interesting here, an emotionally complex and vain hedonist who nonetheless has a way of sneaking up on you as a viewer and stealing your sympathy in spite of one's better judgment.

I wish there'd been more for Tilda Swinton to do, but the entire enterprise is such a concise and vicious jewel of a film that I can't complain too terribly hard about any constituent elements.

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