With No Country For Old Men currently boasting a worldwide box office gross of almost $120 million (or a little under €80 million, in real money), it has proven to be the Coen brothers’ most successful film to date. While still about half a million short of the worldwide gross for Intolerable Cruelty, the next week or so should see No Country easily pass that total, on the back of its big Oscar wins.
The Coens have long been cineastes’ darlings, but their latest has found that elusive mix – commercial and critical success.
Picture: Ethan and Joel Coen, visibly ecstatic.
Their next film shows every sign of maintaining that popularity. It was announced today that Burn After Reading, the first of two films in a partnership the Coens have with Focus Features and Working Title, will open with a nation-wide release Stateside this September 12th. (The second film in this partnership will be A Serious Man, described as a dark comedy in the vein of Fargo).
This may not seem like that big news, especially when its stellar cast is taken into consideration (more of which later), but the Coens are still decidedly left of mainstream and have a way of making a film with even the starriest of casts seem low-key and headed for cult-dom. Fans and critics group may love ‘em, but studio bosses will always have one eye on their investment. It is more usual for their films to be given a limited release at first, to test the waters.
The studio certainly couldn’t have asked for a brighter cast in this case though: Academy Award winner George Clooney, two-time Academy Award nominee John Malkovich, Academy Award winner Frances McDormand, Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt, and Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton. One feels sorry for Richard Jenkins – his name will look very bare at the end of the trailer credits!
Picture: Richard Jenkins, an actor yet to be recognised by the Academy.
The story, an original script from the brothers, tells of a disgruntled former CIA employee (Malkovich) who stores his memoirs on a computer disk, with the intention of exposing his former employers. However his wife (Swinton) steals the disk, only to have her lawyer’s secretary lose it at their gym. The disk is found by two dim-witted gym employees (Pitt and McDormand), who then attempt to blackmail the ex-CIA man. Their efforts are thwarted by a federal marshall for the Treasury Department (Clooney), who attempts to retrieve the disk while becoming embroiled in the whole fiasco. Much hilarity and violence will no doubt ensue.
Picture: Malkovich on set. With a hatchet. Hilarious AND violent.
That is about as simplified as it’s possible to get when describing the plot. The script was available online for a while a few months ago, before being removed by NBC. Early script reviews are quite favourable, with the tone appearing to be in the darkly humourous vein of The Big Lebowski or Fargo, in terms of less-than-bright characters making questionable decisions, and the out-of-control spiralling of events that happens. Joel Coen has deadpanly (we assume) described it: “the film is about the culture of the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] and the culture of physical fitness in Washington, D.C., and what happens when those two worlds collide. And it’s also about Internet dating.” There is a deliciously surreal feel to that which we love!
Box office popularity will no doubt be due mainly to the presence of Clooney and Pitt. Clooney is completing his so-called “trilogy of idiots” with the Coens (having previously starred in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty), whereas Pitt makes his Coen debut. Early set pictures indicate that he’s not afraid to make an idiot of himself for the role.
Picture: Brad Pitt finds out he’s been dropped from Ocean’s 14.
Also noteworthy is that Burn After Reading has Emmanuel Lubezki (Oscar nominated, yet criminally losing out, for his fantastic work on Children of Men) as Director of Photography. The Coens, having used Barry Sonnenfeld for their first three films, have worked with Roger Deakins on all their other films since Barton Fink. There is no indication of a falling out (far from it – Deakins’ work on No Country For Old Men garnered yet another Oscar nomination) but rather his work on Revolutionary Road created a scheduling conflict.
Burn After Reading appears to contain a lot of key Coen ingredients – funny script, violence, slightly out-there characters, cultures ripe for mockery and George Clooney. If the brothers aren’t careful, they are going to find themselves having to give interviews, accept awards and actually smile on a much more regular basis.