Burn After Reading
The Coen Brothers have returned this year with their follow up to No Country for Old Men and it is certainly an interesting addition to their library. The movie stars Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, and Richard Jenkins. Right off the back you can tell that this is a star studded cast and when you add these names with the Coen brothers nothing could possible go wrong, right?
Well, as it turns out it really is hard to mess up a movie when you have such talented people working on it. The story starts off when John Malkovich’s character Osborne gets fired from his job at the CIA. He then goes to his wife Katie (Swinton) and tries to tell her that he quit, but soon they are interrupted by party guests arriving among whom are Harry (Clooney) and his wife neither of which Malkovich seems fond of. When the party ends Osborne tells his wife of his predicament and states that he is going to write his memoirs his wife loses it. She goes the next day to talk to a divorce lawyer and he suggests she make a copy of all financial information on a disk and this disk manages to find it’s way to a gym where Linda (McDormand) and Chad (Pitt) work. Chad finds the disk and sees it as highly classified “shit” and Linda sees it as an opportunity to get the money she needs for her plastic surgeries. Ted (Jenkins) on the other hand doesn’t want any involvement with the CD and also thinks Linda is crazy for wanting to change her body.
That’s only the beginning of the story and it all gets much more complicated from there with Linda going on dates with men she met online and Harry cheating on his wife with Osborne’s wife. The entire movie seems like a bunch of seemingly random scenes thrown together while trying to tell a cohesive story. Then the Coen Brothers start throwing in their magic touch. The Coen’s infuse their severely dark humor, which they are recognized for, into the mix and the movie does find its balance. There are jokes spread throughout the film that had me laughing occasionally and at some points hysterically. Still I felt that there could have been more, laugh wise.
The performances are incredible, as to be expected from this cast, with Brad Pitt giving the best show. McDormand truly pulls off the sweet and lonely girl who just wants to have her plastic surgeries so she can look better, and Clooney plays his Lady’s Man as good as he has always done in the past. Malkovich also turns in a strong performance but I never really cared for his character one bit. I found him overly obnoxious and by the end I absolutely hated his character, though I think that was the intended result. On a side note I would also like to mention J.K Simmons who gives a grand performance as the CIA boss. He’s not on screen much and he doesn’t have that many lines, but every single line is a laugh out loud statement. He just did a really great job in the role that he had.
Overall Burn After Reading was not a great film. It wasn’t bad by all means, but after No Country for Old Men it fell a little short. I also found it surprising that while No Country for Old Men made me laugh a lot more than I thought I would, BAR had me shocked more than I thought I would, unfortunately at the expense of the laughs. As a movie Burn After reading is well done, you’ll hardly ever find a Coen Brother movie that looks sloppy or rushed, but as a comedy itself BAR only has a few things to offer, and no matter how unique and excellent those things are (Clooney’s Basement invention) you need more to save a comedy. The movie does feel too random or quirky at times but it passes from memory as soon as the next scene starts. One thing I did find very interesting is that after the first shock of the movie you as the audience are left slightly paranoid or nervous, expecting something horrible to happen around every corner (Just like one character in the film) and I thought that was really interesting how I started feeling that. The Coen brothers still remain one of the finest directors in Hollywood right now and while this is not up to their usual standards, it’s certainly better than most movies out there right now. I give this movie a 3.5/5 and recommend it mostly to previous Coen fans.
P.S. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact that they never resolved Swinton’s character. It just ends without mention of her.