Anthony's Film Review

Burn After Reading (2008)

This comedy starts off OK, but I wish it could have done more with its story...

Of the different types of comedy plotlines out there, one that I find especially funny is the kind where characters who don't know each other suddenly come into contact in interesting ways because something brings them together. Burn After Reading, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, a.k.a. the Coen Brothers, is a film that attempts to do just that. But of course, it's not enough that the movie follows that premise. It has to do it well enough that I could nod with approval. It has to be clever and unexpected enough for me to laugh at the surprise of the humor. Perhaps more importantly is that it has to provide plenty of opportunities for laughter and have it escalate towards the end.

The movie begins a bit slowly, but at least it introduces the characters. There's John Malkovich as Osborne Cox, a CIA agent who has a drinking problem, is no longer satisfied with his job, and wants to write a memoir. Tilda Swinton is his wife Katie, who is considering a divorce. There's also George Clooney as Harry Pfarrer, a State Department official who is cheating on his wife while she is on a book tour for her children's book. Then there is Frances McDormand as Linda Litzke, a middle-aged gym employee who is desperate to undergo cosmetic surgery, along with Brad Pitt as Chad Feldheimer, another employee at the same gym.

Just when it seems that these groups of characters have no connection to each other, one thing will surely make them collide. Chad discovers a CD left behind at the gym, and he soon discovers that it contains what appears to be sensitive intelligence material. Soon, Chad learns that the CD belongs to Osbourne Cox. However, being a rather mellow guy who doesn't really care about being a good Samaritan, he decides to prank call Osbourne and play a little game of trickery for financial gain, a scheme that even Linda decides to be a part of because she really wants that cosmetic surgery.

Not surprisingly, the characters do collide with each other. I'm not going to say what exactly happens from here on out. This is one of those movies where the plot has to be discovered on your own. I will, however, hint at what happens in general terms. Basically, a few unfortunate complications set in. Think of the movie Fargo, another Coen Brothers film, where a planned criminal act is expected to be so simple but spirals out of control as bad things happen. Burn After Reading is sort of like that but to a much lesser degree. And this, unfortunately, is my main criticism of this movie.

Basically, I eagerly awaited several great comic moments after the scene where Chad and Linda attempt blackmail with the CD. Instead, the movie gave me only a few medicre moments. There is one scene that injects a heavy dose of dark humor, which made me wonder if the movie will definitely get good. But after that, I didn't see anything that was just as interesting. The last scene of the movie is a recap of the events that have taken place. Once the credits rolled, all I could think about was how I wanted to see a lot more comedy and plot twists.

Hence, in my opinion, Burn After Reading is a below average outing for Joel and Ethan Coen. Being disappointed with this movie, I think the title should instead be "Burn After Watching." That's what I wouldn't mind doing to this film after seeing it.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Burn After Reading, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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