Burn After Reading (2008)

Written and Directed by The Coen Brothers

George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rasche, JK Simmons.

Over a few days the lives of several people come into contact. There is the CIA analyst Osbourne “Ozzie” Cox (Malkovich) who is fired due to his drinking problem, and his wife Katie, (Swinton) wants a divorce, as she is having an affair with a US Marshall Harry (Clooney).  A couple of gym trainers Linda and Chad (McDormand and Pitt) find a CD with CIA information on it (dropped by someone else), and they try to blackmail Cox.

Subpar film from the normally great Coen brothers is hampered by a convoluted script with too many unlikeable characters than likeable. Malkovich’s Cox feels almost the primary role, and he by far the most unlikeable character in the film. Even the camera angles feel uninspired, boring and serve no real purpose.

The ‘primary’ story of Linda and Chad finding the CD with the CIA information occurs almost half an hour into proceedings, and this leaves just an hour left for this arc of the story to occur. The rest of the film is primarily the love triangle between Ozzie, Katie, and Harry – and also Linda and Harry. A silly subplot (which triggers the reason for her actions) is Linda wanting cosmetic surgery.

While we are given ‘off screen’ descriptions of their future, it feels just – on and almost an afterthought. That the Coen’s were apparently writing this at the same time they were writing No Country for Old Men, it is evident that this film was also an afterthought. Some characters are in a fraction of a scene and there is some exposition thrown in, and never mentioned again.

At just 96 minutes, it actually feels too short, and the film ends abruptly and absurdly when there could have easily been an extra 10-15 minutes to add to the closure for several of the characters. I was disappointed with this, and was left with wanting more.

There are some solid performances, and the MVP for me is Pitt as the laughably incompetent Chad. He has some genuinely funny and shocking scenes –he plays against type very well.

The best part of the film for me is the score by the always on point Carter Burwell, but for me this feels like a bit of a let-down, and every one of the cast has done so much better.



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