Burn After Reading * * * * 1/2

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Directors: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen.
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons, David Rasche, Elizabeth Marvel, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dermot Mulroney.

Convoluted labyrinthine plots, sharp dialogue, eccentric characters and an exceptional ensemble of actors are what the Coen brothers are known for, and with this espionage comedy/thriller, they tick all these boxes once again.

In Washington, D.C., the lives of several oddball characters cross paths when CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) quits over a drinking issue and his memoirs unexpectedly falls in to the hands of dumb health club employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who decide to try a bit of blackmail to make a coin for themselves. Meanwhile, Cox’s wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is sleeping with horny treasury marshal Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who has a secret or two of his own.

What more can you ask for, when the Coens amass a very impressive line-up of top notch actors and mix them up in a bit of espionage, extortion, illicit affairs, online dating and sex toys. They spoil us once again with their ear for side-splitting dialogue and wonderful actors to deliver it, not to mention the often zany, screwball antics of the well drawn characters. There were moments of pants-wetting hilarity in this, to rival some of the best of the Coens’ work. The performances are so good from the entire cast that peoples opinions differ greatly as to who was their favourite. Malkovich is at his maniacal best; Swinton once again nails the cold-hearted bitch routine; McDormand is perfectly goofy and endearing; Pitt is hilarious as a naive camp dope and Clooney once again shows his range with exaggerated expressive features of vulnerability and paranoia. It’s hard to pick a favourite but if I had to choose, it’d be the unsung and highly underrated Richard Jenkins. His performance is beautifully nuanced. His character is all about hiding his emotions and Jenkins’ subtle expressions are heartbreaking yet hilarious. He’s an actor that can do drama and comedy effortlessly and this is another of his consistently excellent deliveries. The only slight problem I had with the film, was the coherence. I loved every individual scene bit it somehow felt a little disjointed. However, this is a very small gripe from a highly entertaining experience.

The Coens strike comedy gold again, and after the the near mishap of “The Ladykillers” it’s good to know that they’ve still got their funny bone intact. Another strong argument for inventing an Oscar award for best ensemble.

Mark Walker

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4 Responses to “Burn After Reading * * * * 1/2”

  1. I found this one to be quite underrated. Sure, it’s stroy is pointless, but what happens in that stroy is the good part. I laughed and laughed at Pitt, he is so funny in this. Good review; I agree.

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    • Thanks Alec. I couldn’t agree more man. It’s certainly one of the most underrated and funniest of the Coens’ films. Pitt and Clooney were superb but I particularly enjoyed the unsung Richard Jenkins. Great stuff all round though.

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  2. Hmmm. The first time reading your review I don’t really agree with you. It’s one of my least favourite Coen films. Never found it anywhere near that funny and their high quality acting in their films is something i take for granted. All about opinions I guess. Really looking forward to their latest one.

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    • Thanks again for reading, man. I do understand and accept your opinion. I think I’m in the minority with this one but I just loved it. It was a bit all over the place but such zany goodness with some excellent comedic performances across the board. I actually think it’s one of the Coens most underrated.

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