Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Some Sexual Content and Violence
Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: John Malkovich, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, J.K. Simmons
The Coen brothers have a unique filmography to say the least. Mostly covering dark thrillers and quirky comedy, they have never made what many would consider a normal movie. This is a total blessing. BURN AFTER READING came at a bit of a bad time for them. They were fresh off the heels of the Best Picture winner NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and this was the next film…a dark comedy that really has no real plot to speak of. In fact, this is more of a series of connected events than an actual story and they received a lot of flack for this. This was a bit unfair to the movie itself, seeing as everyone was comparing it to the best of the siblings’ work. BURN AFTER READING is hysterical in most respects, even if it leaves something to be desired.
Osbourne Cox is an alcoholic former CIA agent with an explosive temper. Katie Cox is his demanding unfaithful wife. Harry Pfaffer is a former body-guard and Katie’s secret lover, despite being a married man enjoying getting a run whenever he can. Linda Litzke is a woman obsessed with bettering herself through plastic surgery while also working at the gym, where the fitness crazy Chad Feldheimer also works. While there are slight circumstances that connect all of these people, their lives are about to collide in horribly hilarious and darkly violent ways that may lead to the untimely deaths of a few of them and other awful fates for the others.
I don’t exactly want to reveal anything further about the plot, because the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s a comedy of errors on an epic scale. This is much like the same kind of oddball comedy that the Coen Brothers previously dished out in RAISING ARIZONA and THE BIG LEBOWSKI, although this time the stakes are more grisly and violent. The colorful cast of characters make for a massively entertaining experience. Much like THE BIG LEBOWSKI offered an excuse for Jeff Bridges, John Goodman and John Turturro to act like immature lunatics, BURN AFTER READING brings in a class of serious performers (including George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, and the always kooky John Malkovich) to act like insane people. It’s a blast to watch
The non-existent narrative, despite working wonders, also gives off some sense that the film is wandering without a sense of purpose or even a coherent storyline. The running time feels a bit too long in the tooth for a “plot” of this structure or lack thereof. It’s an oddball quirky dark comedy that fulfills its requirement of making the viewer laugh a lot, but also leaves something to be desired. This is the equivalent of the Coen brothers bringing the closest thing we’ll get to popcorn-crunching entertainment from them.
It feels like it’s missing something integral to making it an A-grade movie, but it seems like the narrative itself may be the cause of this problem. The rushed climax also may not suit everybody’s taste, but I found the final scene to be the funniest moment in the entire film. In the end, it’s a weird slice of entertainment delivered by the esteemed Coen brothers. That’s worth far more than many modern so-called comedies…