Oh, Brother Where Art The Big Fink?
As an avid Coen Brothers fan, I looked forward to a sneak preview of Burn After Reading with an almost manic intensity. I even left a Patriot Day party when things were just starting to get hopping. Upon viewing the film, I was definitely not disappointed, but the entire time I was watching it for the first time something felt off. Something was slightly amiss. Something just didn’t feel right. Upon examination, I realized that it simply did not look like a Coen brothers’ film. At first I put this down to the casting, after all none of the regulars such as Goodman, Buscemi, or Turturro made appearances.
But then I realized this wasn’t what made me uncomfortable, the Coens had worked with several cast members before, ranging from some of the leads such as George Clooney and Frances McDormand, as well as people in supporting roles such as J.K. Simmons, J.R. Horne, and Richard Jenkins. So obviously it wasn’t someone’s absence in front of the camera that caused my distress, but perhaps someone behind the scenes was missing?
But of course, Roger Deakins’ signature was absent on this particular enterprise. Of course this will cause a rift in what my mind conjures up for the aesthetic of a Coen Brothers’ film; Deakins has been their director of photography for every one of their features since Barton Fink in 1991. Over the course of more than a decade and a half, Roger Deakins worked with the Coens, creating and honing his specific unique style and causing it to become fused with my idea of the Coens in my mind. Not to disrespect Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer who lit Burn After Reading. His style offered beautiful compositions, and served to film very well. It’s just after seeing so much Deakins / Coens collaboration, suddenly coming face to face with a starker style awash in pale blues, similar to Lubezki’s 2006 Children of Men, was something of a shock to my delicately balanced system that had come to expect Deakins warmer tones. Luckily, after the initial onslaught, I’ve made a full recovery and am able to enjoy Burn After Reading without thinking about the way it’s lit. Now I can just let it’s beauty wash over me, and laugh my ass off at the on screen shenanigans.
The realization on how I associate certain looks with directors points to the overwhelming amount of give and take associated with filmaking. So much of the art is a collaborative process, sometimes it’s easy to forget or simply not acknowledge how much impact the people working to help breathe life into the director and writer’s vision have on the finished project. And when people are dedicated and talented, as both Deakins and Lubezki obviously are, it is interesting to sit back and see the differing pallets and sensibilities, and what these different tastes bring out in film projects. It makes me appreciate them that much more, and I for one am glad to see the Coens’ brilliance shine through regardless of whoever else’s personal touches are placed upon it.