Burn After Reading (2008) starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons directed by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Movie Review

Burn After Reading (2008)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Brad Pitt as Chad Feldheimer in Burn After Reading

A Coen Comedy Workout

There is one major problem when it comes to the Coen Brothers movies and that is there diversity. You can watch something like "No Country for Old Men" and be blown away by the storyline, the drama and the whole style yet you watch another one of their movies such as "The Ladykillers" and feel let down by the completely different style and experience. And that is probably the reason why having watched "Burn After Reading" I felt it was a bit of a let down, which doesn't mean it's a bad movie, it is entertaining in an almost quirky, insane way but it didn't impress at all. But then "Burn After Reading" is a completely different sort of movie, it is the Coen Brothers giving us a comedy thriller full of quirks, from the characters through to the way the storylines interweave and as such comparing is to something they have done before is to do it an injustice.

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich - Rounders) worked for the CIA, well that is until he quit when they tried to demote him and now with nothing to do is writing his memoirs. His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is less than impressed and wants a divorce not just because Osbourne has no job but because she is having an affair with womanizing State Department Marshal Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney - Ocean's Thirteen) who she expects to leave his wife. Meanwhile a disk falls into the hands of a couple of fitness instructors who viewing the information on the disk plan to capitalize on it, especially Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand - Something's Gotta Give) who wants a series of expensive cosmetic surgeries. Well everything leads back to Osbourne as their stories intertwine.

George Clooney and Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading

To really explain what "Burn After Reading" is about would mean giving too much away and spoiling it for those who haven't seen it. But in a classic way it is a series of storylines which end up interweaving be it in a realistic way or an over the top, contrived and amusing way. And as such as these storylines interweave from Osbourne Cox through to Linda Litzke they end up coming together in one big ending. The important thing is that whilst it is all rather absurd it is also all rather good fun and you can't but help smile at the way each storyline progresses and interweaves delivering plenty of surprises along the way.

The thing is that to try and classify "Burn After Reading" is a difficult task because it most certainly has a thriller aspect as it draws you into the storylines causing you to speculate how they interweave and end up. But then it is at times more of a comedy, a rather strange one at that as something totally absurd and unexpected suddenly appears to make you not only laugh but double take as to what you have just watched. And on that note I will say the most hilarious, absurd, surprising scene in the movie and probably in all movies I have watched features George Clooney and something he made. I can't say what but it is that comedic shock, that outrageous quirkiness which makes "Burn After Reading" strange on so many levels. The thing is that for me "Burn After Reading" isn't really a comedy thriller as the two don't blend, you will get a bit of classic thriller style storyline then it switches to comedy. It makes it extremely difficult to judge "Burn After Reading" as either a comedy as a thriller and in many ways I suspect that is what the Coen brothers wanted.

But as you would suspect from a Coen Brothers movie "Burn After Reading" is full of some stunning touches be it in the writing, styling or a moment of camera work. There is a brilliant moment where George Clooney's character has been jogging and we see him standing from a long distant camera shot making us a general observer. But then the camera zooms in and turns us from a casual observer to someone who is actually spying on him. It is this sort of thing, this clever moment which makes "Burn After Reading" so much more than just a well written movie.

As for the acting well it's all first rate from George Clooney through to John Malkovich taking in Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand along the way. Not a single actor puts in a bad performance and all of them embrace the quirkiness of their characters especially Brad Pitt who as fitness instructor Chad Feldheimer is just hysterical with his exaggerated dances and 'dude' like speaking. For a movie with so many big stars what is quite remarkable is that "Burn After Reading" isn't a Clooney movie or a Pitt movie and in fact belongs to them all with no one actor trying to steal the show from another. It makes it so much more interesting watching all these actors delivering the same level of what at times is absurdity and more importantly working so well together when their storylines overlap and interweave.

What this all boils down to is that "Burn After Reading" is a good movie and a brilliantly made one, but it is the Coen Brothers doing quirky rather than doing powerful and as such just doesn't feel like it is as good as some of their other movies. But it is still very good and with a mix of classic thriller with absurd comedy and a storyline which interweaves in some extraordinary ways whilst also serving up some surprises it is highly watch able especially with a variety of quirky performances from an impressive cast.