Burn After Reading Joel and Ethan Coen

Burn After Reading Joel and Ethan Coen
In Hollywood terms, Burn After Reading is an unusual hybrid, a comic tragedy starring megastars acting like idiots in an ensemble cast that puts none of them front and centre. For the Coen brothers, that's all business as usual. Burn After Reading is yet another collision of worlds - espionage and physical fitness - where desperate middle-aged losers (who happen to be played by the prettier-than-you likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton) find themselves enmeshed in complicated machinations that no one controls. A couple of gym-rat losers (Pitt and Francis McDormand) try to exploit a former C.I.A. analyst (John Malkovich) when they find what they think are secrets - they're actually notes for the world's most boring desk-jockey memoir. A Treasury Dept. flack (Clooney) is having an affair with the analyst's wife (Swinton). And through a series of misunderstandings and crossed wires, each takes the tiny piece of the puzzle they have and boldly ventures forth with the hubris of the ill informed. And in that way, Burn After Reading is classic Coens. As filmmakers and storytellers, they're at the top of their game, making various plot threads and missed signals flow seamlessly without ever getting lost in who's scamming whom and who's sleeping with whom. More impressively, they keep a firm hand on the shifting tone of the film, never letting Pitt's skunk stripe hair and spandex clad absurdity overwhelm the seriously tragic turns the film takes. It's not slapstick; it's not a thriller; it's not social parody; but it stirs those elements into its own gumbo. It's not the Coens at their very best but it's just the sort of palate cleanser that they seem to require (like The Man Who Wasn't There) - exercises that look like genre filmmaking but that lead the way to their next masterpiece. As usual, DVD extras are slim. Broken into three featurettes, the making-of highlights their use of Clooney as an idiot (see: Intolerable Cruelty, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and their two-headed single brain chemistry. Sold by the studio as a slapstick farce, Burn After Reading is a more complex beast than that, one trying to distract you with skunk stripe hair before gut-punching you with an unexpected turn. (Alliance)