Burn After Reading Joel and Ethan Coen

Burn After Reading Joel and Ethan Coen
After winning the Best Picture Oscar last year with their disturbing adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers have eased the violence back a few notches for new comedy Burn After Reading. Though it’s filled with the black humour that the Coens are famous for, Burn After Reading is one of the most straightforward comedies of the their career.

The story revolves around a computer disc containing the memoirs of Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a mid-level C.I.A. analyst recently fired from his job. When Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) discover the disc in a locker at the Hardbodies Fitness Centre where they work as personal trainers, the two concoct a plan to blackmail Cox, thinking they have discovered top-secret government documents.

Of course, the plan goes horribly awry and soon Cox’s estranged wife (Tilda Swinton) and her lover (George Clooney) are caught up in the confusion. Meanwhile, Cox’s former C.I.A. employers attempt to comprehend the bizarre chain of events and make sure that there is no threat to national security.

Despite the fact that the film is wrapped in the guise of a spy/thriller, the story is more Get Smart than Bourne Identity. The all-star cast work well as an ensemble but unlike many previous Coen films, there are no uniquely memorable characters that stick in the audience’s minds after leaving the theatre, like the Dude (Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski), Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men) or Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in Fargo).

Of course, being a Coen Brothers film, Burn After Reading isn’t just a simple comedy of errors but instead of tainting the Washington, DC-based story with misplaced political satire, the Coens explore the humour and desperation of mid-life crises, as all the characters (with the exception of Brad Pitt’s empty headed, self-absorbed fitness trainer) are struggling with the stress and fears of aging and romance.

But, other than a few shocking instances of violence, this film maintains a light-hearted feel that may disappoint people looking for a serious follow-up to No Country, though fans of Coen films like Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? will enjoy themselves. (Alliance)