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September 12, 2008


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This was a terribly sad movie--and not just for Jenkins' performance. Just because they were adultresses doesn't mean I didn't have sympathy for the two wives, and just because she was co-president of the League of Morons doesn't mean I didn't feel a sharp stab in my gut every time that McDormand mustered up a smile. I thought it was fairly deep, too, demonstrating the point where private and political paranoia meets. The fact that Linda met her dates on park benches--the anonymous meeting-place of choice for both lonely hearts and undercover agents--was a brilliant touch. Then again, I despised Syriana, Michael Clayton, and many other political/corporate espionage thrillers, so I appreciated the satire.

Joseph B.

Just saw this today and I'm still smiling at certain parts- the way Pitt sounds when he calls Cox on the phone for the first time... the almost in-joke like way that Cox says "and wtf is Palmer doing here?" in his opening firing scene... the scenes of grand standing in dialogue in the way Swinton's lawyer talks to her... the Princeton reunion scene! Magical stuff. I loved every moment. And with "No Country For Old Men" and now this, are the Coen brothers offically masters of the anti-climactic finale? I think so.

One more point of interest- it may be coincidental but just like "The Big Lebowski" is a comedical re-working of "Cutter's Way", their latest plays like a nice companion feature to Ronald Neame's "Hopscotch"... that OTHER great spy comedy.


Since everyone in the world appears to be chiming in, I'm with Bruce Reid and Joel on the "caring" question. This may just be embarrassing, but I actually cried a little during Harry's repentant phone call to his wife. The character is, of course, exaggerated in his self-absorption and lack of awareness, and Clooney attacks that first dinner-party scene with such smarminess that I figured he would just be a cartoon (albeit a funny one). However, the way that we slowly realize the extent of his pathological compulsions- the way his ritual mannerisms repeat themselves with eerie precision- went way beyond funny for me. I think Harry is the character who most clearly expresses the absurd but genuinely scary modern-apocalypse feeling of the film; he is so good at deceiving himself emotionally and going through his soulless routine that when something frighteningly REAL and out of the ordinary happens (e.g. someone in the closet), he explodes in fear. (You could probably say something similar about most of the supposedly "cartoony" characters.)

Of course, after that phone call, the movie (spoiler?) almost immediately dispels the sentimental illusion that made it so touching, and Clooney ends the scene whimpering in self-pity, prompting the "spy" to advise him to "grow up." And his "WHO ARE YOU???" freakout is, indeed, quite cartoony. That's part of what I think is neat about this movie; it really does "care" about its grotesque characters, in its way, which only makes their undeniable grotesquerie more powerful and funny.

Hot bodybuilders unite

Good point Geoff, I noticed that too. After Pitt died, I could sense a serious shift in the audience's reaction to the movie, as his goofy characterization was the only thing really grounding the film as a comedy in most of the viewers' minds. It felt like the audience was collectively thinking "wait, the funny guy is gone...what now?" Interestingly, the two scenes with J.K. Simmons as the CIA boss got huge laughs.

Herman Scobie

If Burn was a conventional (non-Coen) film, the McDormand and Jenkins characters would obviously get together. "Why, the right man for me has been under my imperfect nose all along!" Thank goodness the Coens are perhaps America's least sentimental filmmakers ever, disregarding the ending of RAISING ARIZONA, of course.

Their enemies accuse the Coens of nihilism, but they are simply satirizing nihilism. Reviewers have called Cox's disk a McGuffin because it doesn't mean anything, but its meaning is its lack of meaning. The world of idiot presidents, idiot presidential candidates, a collapsing economy, hurricanes, and the unreliability of closers is absurd. The Coens address this absurdity by disguising their seriousness as comedy.

Charles Giacometti

Excellent commentary on this movie Glenn. The Boston Globe's reviewer basically made the "too smart-alecky" point, but I was going to see the movie no matter what, and I really enjoyed it. I love your frame that this is best viewed as cartoon. My wife hates the darker Coen movies, but loved this one from start to finish.


HBU: The audience reacted that way for the same reason they did when a nearly identical incident occurred in BARTON FINK: the shift in tone is simply too jarring for most people to accept without becoming upset.

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