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brad pitt

To borrow a line from a very popular book, the Coen brother’s Burn After Reading is a mostly harmless affair with a brisk pace, sometimes lightening dialog, this dark comedy begins, does its thing, and leaves you to go on your merry way. The film, the first since the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men (a film not held in high regards among our staff), takes a collection of A-list celebrities, casts them in a movie with such obscene stupidity you can’t help but to laugh for 90 minutes before J.K. Simmons steals the entire film as he closes the book on the entire piece.

As with most Coen films Reading focuses on a collection of narratives that culminate together, with characters drifting between each of the stories bridging the gaps. Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is fired from his CIA job because of a drinking problem, his wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is secretly having an affair with married Treasury drone Harry Pfarrer (George Cloony) who is also dating gym-worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Linda works with Chad (Brad Pitt) and the two of them come into possession of Cox’s financial statements which they believe are intelligence documents. The logical thing to do with any sensitive document is to blackmail the author, in this case the foul-mouthed Cox, or sell it to the Russians, both of which are attempted.

The plot whirls you around for about an hour and a half, cracking a few jokes along the way, makes you feel dirty for laughing, but producing some decent belly laughs and more than a few chuckles. The writing is done is such a way that not every joke known to man is thrown up against a wall to see which ones stick, each joke is carefully crafted and seem to hit their mark more often than not.

Being a Coen brothers film there is your fair share of outrageous, gratuitous violence including a point blank shot to the face and a hatchet to another supporting character’s head. Its so over the top and unexpected that you’re forced to just laugh and stare in disbelief for a second after it happens, reassuring yourself that you just witnessed what you think you did.

Bit-players David Rasche and J.K. Simmons steal the film however with their dry retelling of the climatic events as it closes and Simmons bewildered CIA director makes the film as funny as it aspires to be. This isn’t to say that the film is necessarily flat or insanely funny the apt principle of mostly harmless really sums it up, whether you watch it or not, enjoy it or not, laugh or not, its over in 90 minutes. For non-fans of the Coen brothers its out of sight, out of mind, for true fans it takes its rightful place in the land of Big Lebowski’s and snow covered Minnesota.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith director Doug Liman knows his action, and after the amazing car chase scene in The Bourne Identity and the action here, the man certainly is the one to hire when it comes to pulling off some bitchin’ sequences. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, while being high on humor and explosions, fails a bit in the story department only to be reprieved by the sheer charismatic chemistry of the film’s two stars, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Pitt stars as John Smith, and Jolie as Jane, two secret agent/mercenaries working for competing organizations. The key is, neither of them knows each other is such an agent until about mid-way through the film. That’s where things really start to pick up, with both trying to “1-up” each other in a series of failed attempts to kill each other. The trailers pretty much give away most of the film’s plot, and the “twist” that is suppose to make the audience really think about what is going on is poorly written, but when houses explode and hot women thrown knives, you can’t help but be entertained.

Joining the tabloid-two-some is Vince Vaughn as Eddie, John’s partner who still lives with his mother, and The OC‘s Adam Brody as a secret agent in training who serves as the film’s MacGuffin. There are other minor players, such as Jane’s faceless boss, whom we never get to see and an all-female secret agent crew who appear for about 15 seconds total before their forgotten. No, this film is about Jolie and Pitt’s characters and their battle with each other until they finally realize they do love each other and make-up.

It’s also best that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, as it would be come somewhat of a chore to watch. From the very onset Liman and screenwriter Simon Kinberg aim for a action/comedy approach with the opening scenes taking place at a relational therapist who is interviewing John and Jane off-camera. Their answers right away spark laughs from the audience and encouraged me that this was going to be a good time, and a good time it was.

Nearly the first half of the film has the audience knowing who each of the main characters really, but not John and Jane. After a rendezvous goes bad in the desert both of the principles begin to suspect each other until their secret is finally revealed. As you’ve seen in the film’s advertising, and in the trailers, there’s lots of gun play, explosions, knives, elevator accidents, etc. Bring the girlfriend for the comedy and Brad Pitt, stay for Jolie and the guns.

Liman’s handling of the action scenes is superb in that you actually feel as though you are there. The shoot out in a minivan being chased by three bulletproof BMW’s is the highlight of the film as John and Jane squabble with each other while exchanging bullets with their pursuers. Mr. and Mrs. Smith‘s climax in a department store will also bring smiles to the audiences face with pure Bond-like escapes from barrages of bullets.

Even with the film’s humor it’s hard to suspend your disbelief enough to accept the fact that anything in this two hour movie is plausible. The story itself almost takes a backseat for a good portion of the film as the second act seems to be a set of escapes by John and Jane from each other with even more stuff blowing up around them. There’s no characterization, no substance to anyone on screen other than “these two shouldn’t like each other, now they’ll fight to the death.”

As mentioned before, Jolie and Pitt click very, very well, even amidst tabloid reports of their romance and rumors of a very turbulent production cycle for the film (including the shooting of three endings). Luckily, none of the off-camera drama makes its way into the film, instead the audience is treated to two very capable actors who gel together very, very nicely. It’s a wonder why they hadn’t been teamed up before.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is an above average movie. While the dumbness of the plot and non-existent, lame-brain story may turn off a few, the promise of big guns, lots of fire, and Miss Jolie in a bra will pack the house full. A smart film? No. Fun? Hell, yes.

Homer’s epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey are two of the greatest literary works in the history of the world. They contain great battles, a great story, and everything that made Ancient Greece one of the most amazing civilizations still studied in school. Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy seriously bobbles the ball when it comes to adapting the source material for a new generation of movie fans and still staying true to the way the story is suppose to be told. While the ending credits note that the film is “inspired by” The Iliad, I seriously hope screenwriters can do better than this in adapting written epics to the big screen.

Truth be told, if this film had been released prior to The Lord of the Rings trilogy I might be singing a different story, but I believe fans are to the point where, after three years of “epic” battles, we have seen enough of massive computer generated armies facing off against one another. Yet, Troy was released nearly six months after the masterpiece that was Return of the King, and we are left with a been-there-done-that feel that may plague historical films for years to come. Add in the nauseating effects of an over-used shaky-cam that makes it almost impossible to discern what is going on during the battle sequences.

Troy tells the story of the mythical city surrounded by high walls and ruled over by King Priam (Peter O’Toole). Priam has sent his two sons, Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom), to make peace with Sparta ruled by King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), brother to Agamemnon (Brian Cox). While in Sparta, Paris falls in love with Helen (Diane Kruger), Menelaus’ wife, and beacons her to return to Troy with him. At this betrayal from the prince of Troy, Menelaus seeks the help of his brother to go to war with Troy. In order to win the war, Agamemnon enlists the help of Odysseus (Sean Bean) who, in turn, recruits the help of Achilles (Brad Pitt) to fight for his country.

Many aspects of the story are well known in pop-culture. The Trojan horse, now made infamous by the Internet viruses of the same name, the battle between Achilles and Hector, and the city of Troy itself. Yet, in adapting the story for the screen some creative “liberties” were taken in order to bring the story to a head much, much faster. Over the course of the 163 minute movie you seem to think the siege of Troy only lasted a few days when, in fact, it lasted many years. The acknowledgement of the existence of the Greek God’s is thrown out the window. IMDB quotes director Wolfgang Peterson as calling the God’s “silly” and “not relevant to the story.” They may not be relevant if they weren’t some of the biggest characters/plot devices in the original work. The existence of the God’s tells of origins of Achilles and the fall of the great warrior. Therefore, story never goes into the origins of Achilles and never even acknowledges that he is invincible except for a small portion of his heel. But he can dodge things pretty damn well.

Casting of the characters seems reasonably well done. Eric Bana’s Hector is exactly how I pictured the character when reading the original story and Brad Pitt’s Achilles is almost what you would expect. Brian Cox, as usual, over-acts his character of Agamemnon, but by the end of the film you will be ready to see his fate, except for the fact that it is never suppose to happen. The “liberties” that I spoke of before erase characters, create new ones, and change the fate of others who are suppose to survive to have further adventures in further books. The only casting choice that I found spot on was Sean Bean as Odysseus. The man has a way about him that makes him entirely likable even when playing the villain, but in this case, he gets to play one of the biggest heroes of all time.

My displeasure for the film doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good time watching it, but knowing the original story, and seeing what was changed made me think entirely too hard on the negatives rather than the positives. Coming home and refreshing on the mythology and the original works through a bit of Internet research, made me realize just how much they had changed the source material. While I’m not against a little bit of creative freedom, when you change one of the most well known literary works of all time, you had better change it for the better. Screenwriter David Benioff should stay away from any more literary works and leave the transitions to people like Peter Jackson who are able to change things and still wow audiences world wide. One can only hope that if an update to The Odyssey is planned in the very near future, no one associated with this film will be allowed within 30ft with the intention to use an “inspired by” credit.