Movie Review for Burn After Reading

Good Smart Fun

Burn After Reading

Comedy, Crime | R-13 | 1 hr 35 min
Viva Films
It will probably be said that Burn After Reading isn’t one of the Coen brothers’ best works. This is, of course, from a filmography that includes movies like The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, and the most recent Oscar Best Picture Winner No Country For Old Men. No, it will not go down as a Coen brother masterpiece, but having said that, it’s still really good. It’s absurdly funny, and it’ll leave you with some truly memorable scenes.

Ozzy Cox is a CIA analyst with a drinking problem who gets dropped from the job and decides to write a memoir. A CD containing his memoir is found by a couple of clueless gym attendants who think it contains valuable sensitive information. The two set out to blackmail Cox, but find that they’re not really cut out for blackmail. This sends the two to bring the disc to the Russians, which then gets them noticed by the CIA. Meanwhile, one of the two, Linda, is dating a paranoid, womanizing treasury department officer who gets himself into a heap load of trouble. And all of them intersect over seemingly nothing at all.

The movie takes the most classic approach to comedy: take a bunch of dumb people and get them caught up in something bigger than they were ever prepared for. And it works. The script just puts this motley gang of characters through the wringer, taking through a series of increasingly absurd situations. It’s a comedy of disparity: what’s going on in the characters’ heads is markedly different from what’s actually going on, and it’s hilarious to watch. And these characters are dumb, but they’re fascinating, filled with little tics and idiosyncrasies that make them feel larger-than-life but believable. The script takes a clever turn by taking us out of an action to give us perspective, to just drive down the point that everything that’s going on is utterly ridiculous. There are a few loose moments here and there, but it’s a fine script all in all.

The Coens don’t mess around, even in smaller films like this. Their style is evident, their prowess always on show. They know exactly what they’re doing, and what they’re doing is fantastic. The way they pace their scenes is masterful, the dialogue flowing in strange cadences that build up an overall humorous effect. The film, however, features some of the most pointless MTRCB cuts ever. In the big picture, it might not really hurt the film, but they’re there, and they’re noticeable, and they’re really annoying.

They’ve assembled quite a cast for the film, and all of them do a fine job. It’s a bit of a no-brainer that if you put Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand in the same movie, you’re going to get great performances. But it bears saying yet again, because they just never phone it in, and they always give us such beautifully complete characters, filled with neuroses and glaring flaws and moments of introspection that give so much color to their characters. And to top it all off, they make it seem like so much fun.

Burn After Reading is just good, smart fun. While the Coens are certainly capable of a whole lot more, and the MTRCB cuts are annoying, it’s hard to complain about a movie that’s still so well-made and unflinchingly funny. And it’s really great to see all these people enjoying making this movie, because that feeling is just infectious. It makes sitting in the theater a whole lot more enjoyable, and that’s a really good thing.

My Rating:


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