Burn After Reading (2008)

Dir. Coen Brothers
Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, etc.

Larri and I both didn’t care for this. (She gave it a 2.) No, I wouldn’t recommend it to other idiots except the hard-core Coen Brothers’ fans. The film should probably get a three, but there were some interesting moments and the film managed to keep my attention.

Linda Litzke (McDormand) is a health club worker who wants plastic surgery, but can’t afford it. Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is a recently fired CIA worker who wants to get his revenge by writing a memoir. Chad (Pitt), Litzke’s co-worker, finds what appears to be notes of Cox’s notes. Chad and Linda plan to blackmail Cox for the notes. Thus, begins the Coen Brothers dark, screwball tale.


The film is almost like a comedic version of No Country for Old Men, but instead of a more serious look at the chaos and absurdity of life, this takes a more humorous (but still very dark) look at a similar theme. The main problem for me is that the film just wasn’t that funny. I also didn’t root for many of the characters. There was also a kind of meaness in this film that just doesn’t translate to comedy or anything interesting. It just seems mean. I’m talking about the depiction and treatment of the characters who are big time losers. The Coens make fun of their intelligence and dreams, which wouldn’t be so bad if this translated to laughs or some other interesting point. For me it didn’t.

I looked forward to seeing the actors in this film, but their performances didn’t work or the script didn’t. Pitt just wasn’t funny. One critic said that the film committed the cardinal sin of comedy and that is trying to be funny. I think that can be applied to Pitt’s performance. Malkovich was too over-the-top to be funny. I think Malkovich can be hilarious, but he has to tone down the psychotic antics.

I know this will come as a shock to all, but I did not agree with Reid regarding Burn After Reading. While it was not outstanding, I did like this film and thought Brad Pitt’s performance stood out (in a good way). He was so earnest and transparent, which kept him from being too much of a characature. I thought he was great. I will agree a bit with the “meanness” aspect Reid talks about.

The whole concept of “intelligence” in the government/spy world is dealt with in that quirky, sardonic Coen brothers way. Also at our own paranoia, loyalties and reliance on an unpredictable and flawed system to keep us “safe.” I found it amusing, and while I can see how some would consider this film a “miss” (especially as a follow-up to “No Country for Old Men”), I still am glad I saw it.

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