Movie Review: "Burn After Reading" (Opens 9/12/08)

Burn After Reading

“Burn After Reading” is the new comedy written and directed by the formidable brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. This is a very funny film rendered all the more amusing by zany comedic performances from several unexpected sources -- Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Francis McDormand in particular.

The plot has footprints in several genres and there are some darker aspects to it – such as divorce, adultery, blackmail, murder, and such, but never mind. It’s all wrapped up with shiny and spot-on fun stuff. From what I have seen of other Coen brothers films, they actually like it mixed up that way. Most of the time, their double-entendre, genre-bending scripts work quite successfully. However, if you follow my reviews, the Coens’ last effort -- “No Country for Old Men” -- was too dark for me although it amassed a huge following. I bow to those of you who predicted it would be a hit. After the on-screen bloodletting and questionable ending, that movie soaked up a clutch of Oscars, much to my chagrin.

So, I went to the screening of “Burn After Reading” with some trepidation, but this one really tickled my funny bone. I predict you will be ‘guffawing while watching’ and still ‘chuckling after viewing.’ In the case of every comedy, the actors are at their best when they have straight foils as their adversaries. Credit John Malkovich (absolutely fabulous at chewing the scenery), Tilda Swinton (bright red hair and just gorgeous in this outing), and rest of an excellent supporting cast – all of whom provide this element in abundance.

The goofy plot – featuring many exteriors in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC – is actually a collection of intricate and interacting subplots. They revolve around a mixed-up Central Intelligence Agency, messed-up marriages, a couple of dumbed-down employees of an exercise facility, self-centered men, and a woman eager to go under the cosmetic surgery knife. These very odd individuals help spice up the cinematic brew. The script is fast moving and left me wanting a second showing so I could fully appreciate everything that is going on.

“Burn After Reading” starts out somewhat seriously but with an undercurrent of humor as CIA Agent Osborne Cox, played by John Malkovich, is confronted with a demotion for a rather spurious reason -- he drinks. (Gee, why doesn't he go into rehab like all the other government flacks do?) Osborne goes off the deep-end in anger…and effectively quits his job. Throughout the rest of the flick, he supplies a necessary comedic ingredient with his extreme, manic posturing as he is confronted with comic innocents that confuse and irritate him. One of these is Chad Feldheimer, (Brad Pitt), a sports-gym coworker of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Pitt’s portrayal is an over-the-top gem, equaled by McDormand’s. She is obsessed with obtaining what she feels are expensive cosmetic surgeries -- which she cannot afford.

George Clooney triumphs also in the creation of the womanizing Harry Pharrer. The plot is too nutty for me even to begin to describe, but it will make you forget all those stupid "Oceans 11 - 13" movies, and maybe even "Syriana." Suffice it to say that “Burn After Reading” manages to hold together amid all of the crazy mayhem that takes place. I’m pleased to report that the result is classic.

Go see “Burn After Reading” and, if you don’t find it to be one of the best laugh riots ever, don’t blame me, you grouch!

For all normal people, I rate “Burn After Reading” a solid “B+” on Ellen’s Entertainment Report Card.

Rated: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence

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