When a disc filled with some of the CIA's most irrelevant secrets gets in the hands of two determined but dim-witted, gym employees the duo are intent on exploiting their find. But since blackmail is a trade left for the experts, events soon spiral out of everyone's and anyone's control, resulting in a non-stop series of hilarious encounters!
Fresh off their Academy-Award Best Picture win for No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers are back with a somewhat palate-cleansing movie. I say somewhat because it’s not long before you realise that while Burn After Reading may not be as gloomy as their last movie, it is still a darkly comic picture.
Which by no means is a bad thing, because as the Coens have so aptly demonstrated with their earlier works of genius, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou and even their less well-received The Ladykillers, they have a wicked sense of comic timing. Here they bring their instincts to an intelligence spoof, a movie about the intelligence services of the United States that, hey, may not be so intelligent after all.
At the centre of the action is CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), whose name I guarantee you will remember by the end of the movie. After being unceremoniously fired off the Balkans desk for a drinking problem, he ponders seriously about what to do next and decides to write his memoirs. The memoirs burnt into a CD are what set off the chain of events to follow as character after character gets caught up in a web of “shit” (to quote what Brad Pitt’s brilliantly funny character calls it).
Part of the fun of watching this movie is relishing how the at first separate story arcs start coalescing into one coherent whole. Indeed, you’ll be rubbing your hands with glee as Cox’s wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), federal marshal and serial philanderer Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), desperate opportunist Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and pal Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) cross paths with one another in sometimes unexpected and always hilarious ways.
It also helps that the ensemble cast are all pitch-perfect in their roles. George Clooney is no stranger to the Coens’ world and here he looks perfectly comfortable in his less than glamorous role. Ditto for Frances McDormand who surprises in her nicely nuanced comedic act. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Brad Pitt who almost completely disappears into his role as a wide-eyed, naive and dull Hardbodies fitness trainer. Certainly, one look at his ludicrously upswept blond-streaked haircut is enough to make you giggle.
But besides the comedy, the Coens have also brought a sense of melancholy to each of the characters. This is a movie where the characters are all in their mid-40s and you can’t help but sense that they all feel a little unaccomplished about their lives. There is a distinct sense that they are all longing for something more, something that gives their lives more meaning, and perhaps more importantly, someone to bring happiness into their mostly miserable lives.
This is what makes Burn After Reading more poignant than just any other spoof. It doesn’t just make fun of its characters, it makes them relatable through their missed opportunities and wistful longings. It is also very distinctly Coen, and so if you’ve liked any of their past comic works, you’ll certainly love this one.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Finding the Burn: This is the next best thing to a director’s commentary as the usually laconic Coen brothers talk about their inspiration for this film.
DC Insiders Run Amuck: An introduction (or revisit) of the major characters in the film and what went into the look and design of each.
Welcome Back George: A hurrah for George Clooney’s third collaboration with the Coens after O Brother Where Art Thou (2000) and Intolerable Cruelty (2003).
The visual transfer is excellent, bringing out the mostly muted and bleak world of the movie nicely. Audio’s presented in Dolby 5.1 but expect surround effects only from Carter Burwell’s moody score.
by Gabriel Chong