Friday, April 13, 2012

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading (2008)
Comedy, Crime, Drama, 96 minutes
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton

Do you remember the first Blu-ray you ever bought? Mine was Burn After Reading on the same day that I purchased my first Blu-ray player. It's a title that receives very little recognition and it regularly features in sales. Why is that the case?

The movie is directed by the Coen brothers and stars Clooney, Pitt, McDormand, Malkovich and Swinton. What's not to like?

I'm hard to please when it comes to humor, but several Coen brothers films hit the spot. It's clever dialogue rather than slapstick physical humor, and some of it is unpredictable. I can't laugh when I see a joke coming from a mile away wearing a T-shirt with "This is funny, laugh now" written on it. I like to be surprised.

So what is surprising about Burn After Reading?

Harry Pfarrer (Clooney) has no redeeming features. He's married, but sees other women at every opportunity. He's having an affair with Katie Cox (Swinton). Harry is shallow, paranoid and somewhat stupid and Clooney plays the character with his usual charm and good humor.

If there is anyone dumber than Harry, it has to be Chad Feldheimer (Pitt), who works in a gym. Chad is a complete idiot in every way. His friend at the gym is Linda Litzke (McDormand), who is obsessed with undergoing cosmetic surgery to improve her appearance.

Osborne Cox (Malkovich) is married to Katie and works as an analyst for the CIA. Most of his sentences include at least one profanity and he's borderline alcoholic. The story begins with a meeting in which Osborne is told that he will be demoted, but instead of accepting the situation, he quits. Katie is not pleased, even though she's on the verge of leaving him for Harry.

There's not much of a plot. Chad acquires a CD containing the beginning of Osborne's memoir and believes it to be secrets of national importance. He thinks that Osborne is sure to give him a reward if he returns it and that leads to an amusing phone call. Linda decides that the Russians may be interested in the worthless CD and that they might reward her for the useless information.

Everybody seems to be sleeping with everyone else and what could go wrong does go wrong. This is not a serious story in any way.

There's a great cameo by J. K. Simmons who plays a CIA boss. He's utterly clueless about the significance of the events we witness because they are all meaningless. Watch his reaction at the end of the movie when he makes a decision about what further action to take.

Burn After Reading is a good way to spend an hour-and-a-half. No analysis is necessary. All of the characters have funny moments. Ignore the negative reviews and see it for yourself. You can pick it up for under $10 if you like it.

Overall score 4.5/5 

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  1. I adore this movie! Like I've said before, I'm a big fan of the Coens and I think this is their best cast yet! This is such a funny movie. I especially loved the pairing of Pitt and McDormand. The former is just amazing in the role.

  2. Hi Fernando,

    I think it's a lot of fun too. It's weird that it falls flat for so many people.