With hits (Fargo, Raising Arizona, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing) and misses (Intolerable Cruelty, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Man Who Wasn't There, The Ladykillers) fluctuating throughout their twenty-five year long oeuvre like a blindly played game of William Tell, the Brothers Coen seemed to have finally matured as filmmakers with last year's modern western opus No Country for Old Men. Only Fargo and the oft-overlooked Miller's Crossing compare to it cinematically speaking, though neither of these films show the maturation in artistry that No Country exuded in spades. A maturity that put the usually quirk-pop brothers in contention for auteurism, wading in the same pool that Welles, Ford and Griffith all splashed around in.
Of course now, with the release of Burn After Reading, the brothers' 13th feature, a rather empty-shouldered tale of a gaggle of hapless would-be spies, all that growth and development is for naught as the brothers have fallen back into that same old glib tomfoolery that has so pervaded their past output. A mindset that worked to maximum giddy effect early on in Raising Arizona and its ilk, but which has worn terribly thin as the years have passed, hitting the so-called skids in 2003 with what may be the worst of their films, Intolerable Cruelty.
Now none of this is to say there are no redeeming qualities in Burn After Reading. The cast, though impeded by a lack of real material to work with, is mostly right on, affectations and all. George Clooney as a womanizing schmuckish roué with delusions of paranoia and his BFF Brad Pitt as a vapid personal trainer with a coiffe stuck somewhere between Cool World and Johnny Suede do have their moments of comic resplendence, albeit rather overzealously so, and Joel's very own muse (and wife) Frances McDormand as a body-obsessed gym manager and internet dating troller is near pitch-perfect in the role of "lead" spy wannabe, and even Malkovich (he is now in the one-name-only crowd) is, well...he's Malkovich. Perhaps not what I expected (or at the very least, was hoping for) after the epic feel of No Country for Old Men, but at least there is a bit of fun in it - even if it's just for the moment. [09/16/08]