Friday, September 12, 2008

Burn After Reading: When Idiots Collide

When you win four Academy Awards, one being best picture, you are given the tough task at following this up with another successful film. Joel and Ethan Coen are the latest receivers of this inevitable task after their 2007 film No Country for Old Men became an instant classic. To answer this call, the Coens did a complete 180 and menacingly drove a star studded vehicle that includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, and Frances McDormand and created a completely original, clever, and unique black comedy/spy thriller with Burn After Reading.

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is a CIA analyst who just quit his job after being demoted. His wife, Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), is cheating on Osbourne with a Treasury agent played by George Clooney and decides to look into divorce. Katie copies all of Osbourne’s personal information, including his memoirs, at the discretion of her divorce lawyer. When this disk of personal and classified information winds up in the hands of Hardbodies employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) they decide to blackmail Osbourne and hold the disk for ransom.

The Coen brothers have been known to be able to sublimely integrate comedy into both ridiculous situations and dark, serious material as seen in their most well known films such as The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Burn takes the cake in the ridiculous department of Coen brother films. This winding, intricate and almost meaningless plot of blackmail and spy play all comes together in the most hilarious and remarkable way. In true Coen fashion each character is as unique and memorable as the next is. George Clooney and Brad Pitt lead the way with their dueling boneheaded and idiotic performances that truly let them exercise their comedic talents. John Malkovich is thunderous while Tilda Swinton is stern yet funny and Frances McDormand is as likeable as a stupid person can be. This star studded cast lives up to their names.

What the Coen brothers did here deserves to be recognized. They took some of the biggest stars in Hollywood and put them into an insane screwball comedy as goofy as one will find. Burn goes to the extremes in both comedy and violence and may end up surprising many viewers. The actors let loose and do a brilliant job as they make fun of their personas on screen. The Coens also tap into American issues and fads such as online dating, plastic surgery, self image, obsessive workouts, and paranoia and sardonically mocks each and every one of them.

Only the Coen brothers could direct and create this lunacy and do it so well. The two of them have such a knack for being able to write and create these unique, stylish and memorable films like no one else. For many fans of the Coen brothers this film will be a delight. It’s a laugh out loud, sarcastic, smart, and brutally witty film. On the other hand, this offbeat style of filmmaking may disappoint the average moviegoer. Where this film ranks among the Coen’s films boils down to personal taste. I had a blast getting wrapped up in this idiotic intelligence tale that almost has no intelligence at all. Burn After Reading is the most brilliant film about idiots you’ll see for some time.


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