Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
Written and Directed By: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Staring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Marvel, David Rashe, J.K. Simmons, and Brad Pitt
You’re in league with that moronic woman. You are part of a league of morons. -Osbourne Cox
You can always rely on the Coen brothers for a film that is 100% thinking out of the box. Burn After Reading is no exception to their collection of dark and violent dramas to their twisted and mischievous dark comedies. With exception of one Osbourne Cox, played brilliantly by John Malkovich , everyone in this film is a walking, chaotic disaster. The final lines sum the entire movie up when the CIA superior asks the officer what they learned, and the officer replies befuddled, that he doesn’t know except that they won’t do it again. The superior agrees, still confused himself, and the shot leaves the small office with no windows, and poof! You are no longer a fly on the wall.
The first scene begins much the same way, a quick glance into the strange goings on of the CIA. The viewer is officially a fly on the wall. In the office that is more akin to a closet, Osbourne Cox, a mid-level analyst is being demoted. In a fit of rage he curses out his superiors, quits and storms out of the office. Upon his return to his wife, who is having an affair with a promiscuous man from the treasury department, he searches for some clarity and opts to reflect the past years by writing a memoir of his years with the CIA. His wife is already secretly planning a divorce, copies all his information from his computer, mostly looking for his financial, not his memoirs, but the secretary at he lawyers office accidentally leaves the disc and her local gym where a woman desperate for plastic surgery and her dim witted friend decide to blackmail Osbourne for the disc.
The story often shoots back to the CIA officer reporting exactly what’s happening to his superior, who is just dumbfounded by the situation. They each continue to ask each other what is going on or why the people are doing the things they are doing. They seem to be speaking for the viewer, and the constant response of the superior is a flabbergasted, “Who the heck knows, just go back and keep watching them, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense.”
There are some political undertones and jesting. There is the feeling that the entire situation is mocking the CIA who watches everything but does very little about it. The line where the CIA Superior is aghast at the idea of sharing information with the bumbling fools of the FBI was incredibly poignant, but it wasn’t thrown in your face. It was there as an underlying point, gently nudging and mocking, but not being capricious about it.
The character’s themselves have essentially no back story. Only a strong cast of actors could pop onscreen and make them so vibrant and fluent. Brad Pitt’s small role was particularly humorous, and the physical comedy he portrayed reminded me exactly what a talented character actor he is. Even with Pitts small, but significant role John Malkovich stole the show each time he was on screen. The authority he speaks with commands attention, and his fantastic deliveries as the occasional voice of reason, made for a compelling dynamic. George Clooney even proved he had more range than the Michael Clayton type role he’s been playing lately. I’d almost forgotten exactly how charismatic and funny he could be. When he ran away from Frances McDormand, I was left in hysterics.
This film blatantly acknowledges exactly how ridiculous every event is, and then continues on it’s merry way. Burn After Reading was almost too clever for it’s own good. There was a great sense of pleasure in watching such an intelligent comedy with such moronic characters. There was no pacing to understand what to expect, even though the climax was great, but not elevated on some unnaturally built up tension. It just was. I love the Coens for doing what they do. Burn After Reading will shortly be finding it’s way onto my DVD shelf.