Burn After Reading – Intelligence is relative

A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent falls into the hands of two feckless gym employees who try to sell it.

After being fired by the CIA, Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) decides to write a memoir. His wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), wants a divorce so she can join her lover, Harry (George Clooney), whom she expects to leave his wife. Elsewhere, at a gym in Georgetown, two employees find a disk in an empty locker which, upon discovering its contents, they try to turn into cash. Linda (Frances McDormand) wants money for plastic surgery and Chad (Brad Pitt) I’m sure doesn’t even know what he wants it for himself. At first, they try to sell it back to Osbourne, but after he rejects them, the pair take it to the Russian embassy.

Burn After Reading is a crime comedy from the Coen brothers therefore, with what I’ve learnt from my previous experiences with their films, don’t expect anything that ends… logically. After No Country For Old Men ended the way it did, when this reached the very abrupt end that it did, I can’t really say I was surprised. It is probably one of the few faults I can pick with the Coen brothers – their endings can be a bit crap. Maybe if the rest of the film was mediocre, then perhaps I wouldn’t be too upset about such finales. Unfortunately though (or I suppose fortunately is the better word, I’m not entirely sure), the rest of the film was actually quite good, therefore you can understand my disappointment.

As this was a comedy and the characters were created mainly for their satirical value, I don’t really know how to analyse the performances of everyone who appeared as there was nothing they were really based on – they were funny and in fairness, that was al, they needed to be. Instead, I’ll just say what a lovely man I thought Brad Pitt was. Oh, wasn’t Chad a little darling! He was so clueless when it came to uncovering the information on the DVD, and then his phone call to Osbourne when he tried to sell it back to him was great. Pitt’s character was so loveable, and I think if you were having a bad day and you just watched him in this, things would get a little bit better.

Malkovich did make me laugh as Osbourne. The man’s reaction to everything was more or less, ‘What the f***?’, every single time. When he got fired from his job; when he got told the reasons for which he was fired from his job; when the locks to his house were changed – every time, ‘What the f***?’. And then there was the dead pan look on his face when he walked along the pier leading out to his private yacht with only his underwear, a dressing gown and his slippers on, and an axe in his hand. ‘Twas brilliant!

McDormand held her own against the boys in this. The impression I got of Linda, her character, was that she was roughly three failed dates away from becoming one of those crazy cat ladies. She was so desperate to get laid by the man of her dreams, bless her! So when she met Harry she was saved… until it turned out Harry was very paranoid because he was being followed by the unit Osbourne worked for. 

Harry was played by Clooney who was probably the best person for the job. Clearly the Coens thought the same as they said that each main character, with the exception of Swinton’s, was written specifically with the actor or actress in mind. I wonder if they were trying to tell these people something? Never mind, the main thing is that by tailor making each character, the best portrayal possible was achieved. Clooney spent the majority of the film having sex with various women and then going for a run afterwards. However his character was bit of an inventor as well, and what he creates may very well bring a smile to your face.

All in all, Burn After Reading is a solid film, however unless you’re used to the style in which the Coen brothers make their films, you probably won’t view it as anymore than just another mainstream comedy. It certainly is watchable, but most movie goers won’t watch it more than once. Hey ho, it passes ninety minutes with some light entertainment – you can’t really say fairer than that. 

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Kira Comerford

Film and TV lover with hopes to one day make my own projects for everyone to enjoy. Until then, I'm giving my thoughts on what I watch for inspiration.

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