Friday, September 19, 2008

Watch After Watching

It's been ten years since the Coen Brothers released their box office trash, but cult classic flick, "The Big Lebowski." Without exaggeration, I have seen the movie about 20 times from start to finish. But even so, I couldn't tell you the plot. One person mistakenly pisses on another's "valued rug" that "really ties the room together." The porn industry and nihilists get into the mix. Everyone is chasing everyone and it's almost impossible to keep track of exactly the who the "you" is in the memorable quote: "This is what happens when YOU f**k a stranger in the a**!" The point is that the plot is forgettable and negligible almost by design. The Coen Brothers' penchant for characterization is the selling point. Each character in "The Big Lebowski" delivers deliciously hilarious lines. Each character is complex, idiosyncratic and completely believable. And together, the characters stitch together a fantastic movie experience that could have had a million different plots and the outcome would have been the same. That's the Coen Brothers' magic. It's visible in "Lebowski," but also "O, Brother Where art Thou?," "The Ladykillers" and "No Country for Old Men."

So now we get to the Coens' new release, "Burn After Reading." It's receiving lukewarm critical response on account that the story is not that good. Well... duh... the proof is in the characters. And by that measure, this movie is bound to be another Coens cult classic. Each character delivers lines that no doubt will be memorized and uttered millions of times, over and over. John Malkovich's rage-fueled pompous, has-been CIA operative couldn't be funnier. George Clooney's womanizing ways, sexual deviance and preoccupation with kitchen floors is hysterical. Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt, who work together at a gym, form one outrageously enjoyable doofus sandwich. CIA head J.K. Simmons and CIA officer David Rasche's two closed-quarter meetings provided some of the best comedy in the movie, while "heart-in-the-right-place" hero Richard Jenkins was impossible to root against. And so on and so on. Over the years, each character will learn to be loved for their quirks and terrific lines.

Most movies tend to be a one-time affair: you watch it once and you're done. But with the Coen Brothers, you can help but watch their movies over and over and over, hoping to catch something about their compelling characters that maybe you missed the first twenty times. "Burn After Reading" is one you will watch after watching and then watch it some more.