Burn After Reading
Owain Paciuszko 19/10/2008
The Coen Brothers' thirteenth movie has hit screens and has been described by the twosome as their take on the kind of spy thrillers that seem so popular at present; indeed the trailer for Russel Crowe vs. Leonardo DiCaprio espionage flick 'Body Of Lies' played before and its plot seemed just as messy and convoluted as this, yet, probably not intentionally so!
The story of 'Burn After Reading' centres around Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich who was great in that jewel thief movie) a CIA analyst who leaves his job out of confused frustration with no plans and decides to write his memoirs. Meanwhile his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who is generally a bit of a player, if somewhat paranoid. Harry eventually finds himself having a fling with lonely gym employee Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) whose co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) has stumbled upon a disc procured by Osbourne's wife in her pre-divorce proceedings that he believes contains 'sensitive shit', he sets in motion a plan to blackmail Osbourne for a bit of money that will aid him and pay for Linda's much desired liposuction surgeries.
In a way it sounds like the ingriedients for a great paranoid farce, skewing the world of espionage through a Coen brothers filter of the mundanities of everyday life, the ludicrous intricacies of people's relationships and the usual scoopings of comedy and murder that inhabit most Coen worlds. Unfortunately the film never finds its feet, the pacing is terrible, juggling the multiple story threads with a lack of skill that is baffling when compared to the elegance of their last film 'No Country For Old Men'. The comedy is subdued to the point of slumber, the plot is predictable yet over-worked, the thrills are thrill-less and the characters are a generally dull bunch. Pitt plays an idiot and dances a lot, which seemed to entertain some, but there was so little to his idiot that he was just someone playing an idiot aware that they are an idiot. Malkovich shouted a lot, but provided some of the films few laughs in his exchanges with Chad. McDormand simpers under a terrifying blonde bob and her desperation is destructive and annoying, though - as the film's focus - she does little to earn even a slither of our sympathies and so becomes a burden to spend time with. Clooney's character is 'Intolerable Cruelty's Miles Massey but with a beard.
That is not the last comparison to the Coen's 2003 screwball comedy 'Intolerable Cruelty' which was, until the following year's remake of 'The Ladykillers', the worst Coen brothers film. The unlikable characters, multiple story threads, cast playing under-written roles, lack of wit and imagination all present in that film resurface here. The film builds towards a kind of punchline that is so inept and the conclusion lacks any kind of finale or resolution that it further renders everything you have just seen totally pointless in the extreme. A huge step backwards for the Coens.