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Movie Review – Burn After Reading

January 26, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Burn After Reading is a new comedy by Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen brothers are a filmmaking duo that has enriched my life by making cinematic gems such as Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo and No Country for Old Men. They’re also critical darlings, having been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and just about every other award you can think of. So it’s no surprise that they’re able to attract an impressive group of actors for all of their productions. This film is no exception. The cast of this film includes such heavy hitters as: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins (2009 Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor in The Visitor).

The plot of Burn After Reading begins with the “reassignment” of John Malkovich’s character, a CIA operative, to a less significant governmental position. He doesn’t react well to this (the “F” words fly fast and furiously), and decides to quit instead of accepting the demotion. From there, we learn of his decaying personal life – a marriage that is crumbling, a set of professional skills that is hard to market, and a dream to reinvent himself by writing his memoirs. It is this dream that spins his life into further disarray.

In a series of unfortunate and escalating events, a CD with notes for his memoir falls into the hands of a personal trainer played by Brad Pitt. That’s right, a personal trainer – someone who works at a gym and helps get people into better shape. But this is no ordinary personal trainer. This is Brad Pitt in a role that is goofier than any character he’s ever portrayed. He’s right off the charts. What he lacks in intellect, he makes up for in naive enthusiasm and grand illusions.

When Brad’s character discovers the CD, which he assumes contains top secret CIA intelligence, he collaborates with a fellow personal trainer played by Frances McDormand (Academy Award winning actress and wife of Joel Coen) to try and extort money from Malkovich, the former CIA operative. But that’s just the beginning of this wacky tale.

During the course of the film, we also get to know George Clooney, a treasury agent who’s having an affair with Malkovich’s wife. And then there’s Richard Jenkins, an ex-priest and now manager of the gym where Brad Pitt and Francis McDormand work. His unrequited love for Frances throws him right into the thick of the cloak and dagger scheming.

Sound complicated? It is! This should have been a wild romp filled with plenty of laughs. But I’m sad to say that I only smiled a little and maybe smirked a few times. With the talent involved in this film, I should have laughed until my sides hurt. And I wanted to.

Many people really liked this film. It was even nominated for a few Golden Globe Awards. I suspect that some acclaim was paid to the gifted filmmakers and actors – a group the critics really love. The film is also a very dark and cynical comedy, again the type of material that critics usually appreciate. Comedy is a subjective art form. So who knows? Maybe you’ll find it funny too.

Burn After Reading is Rated R for lots of profanity, brief but graphic violence and some sexual content. I don’t think it would be of interest or appropriate for younger audiences. This film is now available on DVD.

If you see Burn After Reading, I’d love to know what you think of it. Did it make you laugh? I hope so!

Be well!


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2 Comments & Updates to “Movie Review – Burn After Reading”

  1. Kevin Says:

    “The film is also a very dark and cynical comedy, again the type of material that critics usually appreciate.” LOL

  2. GIGI Says:

    THIS WAS A TERRIBLE MOVIE! I WAS SO CONFUSED AND THERE WAS NO RESOLUTION! And who the heck called this movie a comedy! Oh so Brad Pitt laughed a couple of times and looked a bit goofey… and George Clooney had a very ODD CHAIR… but otherwise, NO NOT FUNNY!

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