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Burn After Reading Review

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading is a must see. Nuff said, read the review.

All critics have their “rules,” their preferences and pet peeves. Sometimes they’re a matter of personal taste – one genre over another – and sometimes they’re a result of seeing the same approach taken too many times with the same material. But despite cinema’s inherent ability to instruct its audience upon the finer points of finding love, recognizing shortcomings, and overcoming adversity, I really, really hate it when characters learn lessons. All of which is why, at least according to my own, subjective standards, the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading may be the greatest movie ever made. Frances McDormand (Almost Famous) plays Linda Litzke, a personal trainer who decides to blackmail former CIA operative Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) after her colleague Chad (Brad Pitt) finds a disc that contains Cox’s memoirs. Cox, however, refuses to cooperate, and soon Linda is forced to juggle her get-rich-quick scheme, her responsibilities at the gym, and a burgeoning relationship with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) – a married man who is also carrying on an affair with Cox’s wife Katie (Tilda Swinton). Meanwhile, Cox’s former colleague (David Rasche) and superior (J.K. Simmons) at the CIA discover that Linda went to the Russians with Cox’s memoirs and monitor the situation as it continues to develop.

As suggested above, there are going to be a lot of folks disappointed by Burn After Reading if only because it follows the artistic triumph of No Country for Old Men and is by any standard a completely unimportant story bereft of dramatic substance. But longtime Coen brothers fans will observe that this material perfectly fits within the general themes of their other films, most of which make fun of stupid people by telling, yes, a completely unimportant story. From Raising Arizona to The Hudsucker Proxy to Fargo to The Big Lebowski to O Brother, Where Art Thou, the Coens regularly assemble their stories to satirize if not outright ridicule the best laid plans of men with the brains of mice. And this film is no different. While there are a few sympathetic and even intelligent characters within Burn After Reading’s ensemble, they are given enough human shortcomings (arrogance, insensitivity, obliviousness) to make them worthy of the Coens’ derision, if not also the audience’s. Additionally, Malkovich gives a great performance as Cox, the analyst whose self-aggrandizing but by all accounts mediocre memoirs set into motion the film’s comically catastrophic turn of events, and J.K. Simmons contributes a terrific cameo as a CIA superior who supervises the events with appropriately dry disbelief. But as always, Ethan and Joel are the ones pulling the strings, and they’re the ones who most effectively create this tapestry of complicated situations and yet manage to make it all seem simultaneously significant and superfluous. Ironically, of course, there are far more movies made in Hollywood that are really about nothing, but pretend to be about something – which is also when their supposed lessons mean the absolute least. But with Burn After Reading, the Coens have successfully made a movie that both pretends to be and is in fact about nothing at all.

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