Burn After Reading: Movie Review
Cast: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand,
Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt
Director: Ethan and Joel Coen
After the praise heaped on No Country for Old Men and its clean sweep of the
Oscars, it'll be no surprise to some that the Coen brothers have returned to the
familiar territory of screwball.
Burn After Reading is a film about various people working in the Intelligence
spy sector who, to be blunt, seem to be severely lacking on the, erm,
At the film's beginning, John Malkovich's CIA analyst Osbourne Cox is being
fired from the department he works in because of his drinking problems. As
revenge, Cox plans to write a tell all memoir which would embarrass the CIA.
However, things aren't looking good for Cox - his wife's planning to divorce
him to run off with her lover Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and steals a copy
of his memoir as part of the divorce case.
But as ever, things don't run smoothly.
The disc winds up in the hands of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) who works
at the local gym along with Chad (Brad Pitt).
Litzke's a desperate woman - turned down for funding for cosmetic surgery,
she decides the only way to change her life is to blackmail Cox with the disc
and so she enlists Chad's help.
To give away much more would ruin the world the Coens have once again
They're masters at bringing characters to life and exaggerating some of their
crazier tics so that they seem perfectly plausible.
Pitt's Chad character is slightly detached from reality and when it
comes to meeting Cox to blackmail him, he turns up in a suit - on his bicycle.
Clooney's Pfarrer is convinced there is someone following him and Malkovich's
Cox spends most of his time wandering about in a dressing gown and getting
There are some moments of violence in Burn After Reading which really do
shock - having been put at ease with the idiocy of some of the cast throughout
the film, the Coens' dose of brutal reality stuns you when it bursts onto the
The one weak link in this cast is Tilda
Swinton as Cox's wife - she is underused in the other woman role - but that
gripe aside, Burn After Reading is silly, dramatic fun.
It's up there with some of their finer farces - O Brother, Where Art Thou?,
Fargo and the much under-appreciated Hudsucker Proxy.
It also has a last line which will either frustrate you if you've not enjoyed
the film - or will make you nod your head in agreement at the absurdity of what
you've just witnessed.