I've been writing about the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, today because their latest movie, Burn After Reading, opened the Venice Film Festival last night. These Award-winning screenwriters/directors intrigue me.
Their last film, No Country For Old Men, was, for me, a masterclass in screenwriting of originality and cinematic power. But the brilliant double-act are notoriously wary of wanting to seem serious about their work. The latest, stuffed with glamorous A-celebrities, whooping it up as near-parodies of their screen personas, must have been quite a relief after the majestic solemnity of No Country.
It's ostensibly a spy thriller, but as usual with the Coens, they've exploded the movie genre's rules, and turned the whole escapade into a story that's much more about how human beings get things wrong.
And that's what's interesting about their films. They can take a genre and do whatever they like with it. For all its humour, Burn After Reading has a pretty dark underbelly. A spoof spy thriller made to say something that's meaningful about marital infidelity, the cult of appearance and so on.
The improbable, convoluted plot involves a failed CIA analyst who's a neurotic alcoholic (John Malkovich), a sports trainer airhead who loves inflicting pain on his clients (Brad Pitt), a no-longer-young unmarried woman who's dream in life is to have a surgeon's knife slice off fat from her stomach and buttocks and inject her breasts with chemical polymers (Frances McDormand, wife of Joel Coen), a hypochrondiac who's a serial philanderer with a serious commitment problem (George Clooney), and a stuck-up Englishwoman (Tilda Swinton).
You can see, even from these brief descriptions of the characters, that the film's plot hardly matters. Tell that to the screenwriting gurus with their iron-clad '3-Act-Structure' and pre-set 'Plot Points' and 'Make it Plot-Driven!' commandments.
All the most exciting screenwriters and directors are blowing up the rule books - and winning awards not just in Europe but in Hollywood.
It's an invigorating time for movies because we're seeing how screenwriters are making their own rules -being inventive, original and genuinely ground-breaking. They're certainly inspiring me to keep going with my own voice, and making it drown out those hesitant doubts that so-called experts on creative writing try to crush me with.
Burn After Reading is fast and funny, but satire doesn't come better than this. Of course, the Coens just say it's a fun ride, but I think that's a little disengenuous of them. They seem to achieve something that I imagine most creative individuals would like to achieve. Sending the audience away with their minds stretched, and feeling a little less secure in their comfort-zone.
There's more about Burn After Reading with pictures and the movie trailer at Unique Screenwriting.