Magazine article The Spectator

Angry, Icy, Goofy and Dumb

Magazine article The Spectator

Angry, Icy, Goofy and Dumb

Article excerpt

Burn After Reading

15, Nationwide

Burn After Reading, a 'comedy thriller', is the latest Coen brothers movie, their first after No Country for Old Men, and it is a very, very hard film to like. I wanted to like it, I tried to like it, I strained to like it with all the fibres of my being bar two -- they've gone off on a mini-break to the Cotswolds -- but I could not, and I think I know why. It's just not any good. It's arch, inelegant, lazy, unaffecting and has George Clooney doing that thing he does which involves a great deal of face-pulling coupled with many looks of saucer-eyed surprise.

This doesn't mean I wouldn't sleep with George if asked, because I still so would, but I might feel obliged to give him a pep talk post-coitally. 'George, ' I would say, 'a comedy performance doesn't just mean acting funny. Pull yourself together, man!' By the way, I feel I should point out, so you don't make the same mistake that I did, that the 'Reading' in the title is what you do when you have, say, a book to hand, rather than 'Reading' as in the town, although I know what I'd burn after that. Swindon!

This has a terrific cast, sure enough, starring not just Clooney, but also John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand but not Adam Chance, who doesn't appear to have worked since Crossroads, and never gets a look-in, although I couldn't tell you why. It's set in Washington and is one of those eventsspiralling-out-of-control movies -- in this instance, a most malign chain of events -- which kicks off when Malkovich, a CIA analyst, angrily quits when faced with demotion and decides to write his memoirs. The Malkovich character is always very angry indeed, possibly because all these parts were written by the Coen brothers with all the above actors (apart from Adam, who may or may not have recovered from Jill jilting him at the altar) in mind, and if there is one thing Malkovich does, it is anger. All the other actors are similarly pinned down to the one characteristic, which is possibly the one you'd most expect. No surprises here, then.

So, we have Malkovich (angry) married to Tilda Swinton (icy), who, in turn, is having an affair with Clooney (goofy), a married federal marshal, whatever that is. …

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