Pages Navigation Menu


Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt

Osborne Cox: With all due respect, what the fuck is this? Whose ass did I forget to kiss?

The now infamous Coen brothers make a lot of movies and they know that people out there see a whole lot of movies too. A population distracted by constant film watching is a population led to see the world in a truly dramatic fashion. Finding a computer disc in the ladies locker room of a fitness club would ordinarily be just another occasion to throw something left behind in a lost and found box, likely never to be reclaimed. If you’ve seen one too many movies though, and you don’t have a whole lot going on in your own little life, you might see finding this disc as an opportunity to blackmail the owner of said disc for contents you believe to be top secret C.I.A. intelligence. There’s just one thing the movies don’t tell you about capers such as these though, and that is that none of it is real. In BURN AFTER READING, the Coens decide it’s time for a little fun and serve up a hearty dose of signature comedy that both highlights the influence of film and perpetuates it further at the same time.

BURN AFTER READING begins with a thunderous, percussion heavy score and an all too familiar opening shot of the planet we call home. Slowly but persistently, the worldview becomes more focused and as we descend, we zero in on the city of Washington. The titles appear on the screen, digitally processed as though you were reading them off a computer. Have the Coens made a super spy movie, I wondered, and with that, they had me exactly where they wanted me. Though you wouldn’t know it from the way they speak in public, the Coens are big jokers; they like to play with their audiences. They get you thinking one way and then take you in a whole other direction. It’s almost like they’re laughing at you sometimes but really, they just want you to have as much fun as they seem to be having. And fun is to be had in BURN AFTER READING. After perfecting the art of suspenseful drama with last year’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, the brothers have returned to more familiar waters for zaniness that is entirely offbeat while still sharp and biting.

The premise itself is certainly amusing, if not a little scattered, but it is the top-notch ensemble that solidifies this work as quintessentially Coen-esque. Regulars like George Clooney and Frances McDormand return as two particularly kooky people who find each other online while pretending to be different versions of themselves. Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich are a married couple on the way to divorce. Both are, to a fault, cold and crazed respectively, as well as formidable performers. Richard Jenkins turns in another self-effacing, understated performance (after this year’s THE VISITOR) that should nab him more work with high profile directors. And while all of these performances are top notch and so delightfully exaggerated, it is Brad Pitt that shines brightest for the simple reason that he is entirely ridiculous. Pitt plays Chad Feldheimer, a fitness trainer who has perhaps been running on endorphins for one too many laps, and the only character in this film who isn’t pretending to be anything he isn’t. This could have a lot to do with his character not being smart enough to pull off disguise but Pitt himself is more than capable. We never quite forget that we’re watching Pitt but that’s what makes his unbridled exuberance as he bounces around to the music in his headphones so darn funny.

Despite the title, nothing actually gets burnt after being read at any point in the film. The act itself though is so dramatic that to name your movie this essentially announces the intended tone. BURN AFTER READING definitely makes good on its promise and has a blast doing it. The Coen Brothers are sitting pretty atop their throne as two of Hollywood’s most celebrated filmmakers and their latest plays out almost effortlessly. Even switching over to a new cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (rather than long time collaborator, Roger Deakins), happens without a beat missed. It’s as though they could do all of this in their sleep. Now, that would be one hell of a dream that would make one heck of a good movie. We just have to make sure we can spot the difference between that and the real thing.

Share Your Thoughts