Friday, September 12, 2008

Burn After Reading

"Report back to me when it makes sense." This line, spoken by a senior CIA officer (played by J.K. Simmons) fairly accurately sums up the premise of Burn After Reading. I am pleased to see the Cohen brothers make a return to comedy- especially after last year's No Country for Old Men. It's been 8 years since their last decent comedy (O, Brother Where Art Thou). Burn After Reading, however, follows much more in the vein of Fargo.

This is yet another convoluted story of mix-ups, and normal people getting in way over their heads. This fun little farce is about a former CIA agent, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) and a CD that falls into the wrong hands. These hands happen to belong to the two true shining stars in the movie. The sweet and surprisingly sinister Linda Litske (Frances McDormand) and the critically incompetent meat-head, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). They both lit up every scene they were in. But of course, there's much more then just this simple story of blackmail. Infidelity abounds in this movie, involving Katie Cox, (Tilda Swinton), Harry Prafer (George Clooney proving once again he's a born fit with the Cohens), and back around to Litske. Throw into the mix private detectives, divorce lawyers, and even the Russians, and you get an idea of this wacky comedy.

The cast really made this movie. The story as fun as it was, was really nothing new. It was just a reinvention of story devices the Cohen's have done over and over again. Every member of this large ensemble, however, was fantastic. Malkovich was likely the saddest character, caught in the middle of all of this- and he just wanted to write his memoirs. Swinton was as cold and uncaring as she's ever been. Clooney provides an interesting blend of sexual deviance (what until you see the machine he built in his spare time) and paranoia. I looked at McDormand as a shallow version of her amazing Fargo role, and Pitt was just a big adorable dummy. There wasn't a scene he was in that I didn't laugh.

Now of course, this is a Cohen Brothers movie after all. So that means some rather violent scenes. But it is still nothing compared to No Country, or even the Woodchipper scene from Fargo. These are more quick and surprising.

This isn't the most original movie ever, and it's not one of the Cohens' best (though with their amazing catalog that's a pretty tall order). But it was downright funny. It's been a while since I actually laughed out loud at a movie (and even heard scattered "this is funny" comments). In a rare case the trailers for this movie actually accurately represented the movie. If the trailers excite you, then see this movie. It delivers on everything that is promises.


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