Movie Review: ‘Burn After Reading’

By Emily Hoover |

After earning critical success and a handful of Oscars for their last movie, the brilliant “No Country for Old Men,” directors Joel and Ethan Coen decided to go for something significantly lighter in the ridiculous CIA comedy-thriller “Burn After Reading.” The always-rebellious Coen brothers have traded the deep, dark depression and eternal misery of “No Country for Old Men” for “Fargo”-style senseless violence. They succeed in lampooning everything from brand-happy America’s quest for the perfect body to the idiocy of the Central Intelligence Agency. The result is hilarious and amazing, with just a hint of purposelessness.

Osbourne Cox (fantastic John Malkovich) is an alcohol enthusiast and former CIA agent. He has quit his job before being transferred, and, in his mind, his only career opportunity is to channel his frustrations with the agency into a memoir. His wife Katie (the icy Tilda Swinton) couldn’t care less, as she is secretly having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and is contemplating divorce.
When Cox’s memoir, saved on a compact disc, ends up on the floor at Hard Bodies Gym, Harry’s second mistress, gym employee Linda Litzke (Francis McDormand), unites with co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), hoping to milk $50,000 out of Cox for her coveted cosmetic surgery. When this plan fails, the trainers turn over the “classified” information to the Russian Embassy, praying for a reward. What results is typical for Coen comedies: laughter, confusion and of course, senseless violence.

Although paranoia and Internet dating are primary elements of this film, the superficiality of America serves as its theme. However, it is devoid of preaching or speech making. Instead, the Coens achieve this by juxtaposing the quirky character of Chad Feldheimer with the lunacy of CIA agents.

While Clooney’s sex-crazed Harry epitomizes America’s pseudo-exercise addiction, it is Pitt who truly shines. Usually cast as the hero, he is surprisingly amusing out of his realm. His half-dyed hair, painfully stupid dialogue and eccentric dance moves are iconic for comedy.

Complete with impeccable dialogue, whimsical characters and Carter Burwell’s outstanding musical score, “Burn After Reading” proves that even without “No Country for Old Men,” the Coens still have a spark.

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