Theatrical Review: Burn After Reading

Osborne Cox is a CIA analyst who’s now quit his job because of the threat of a downgrading, given the excuse of a “drinking problem,” but due to his own explosive nature, we see it’s more than that. His cold-hearted wife, Katie, reacts badly to the news, covertly planning a divorce while carrying on an affair with a U.S. Marshal, Harry Pfarrer. Harry, married and an overachiever in the worst way, in addition to his affair with Katie, is also having affairs with other women as well. Linda Litzke is an employee at a gym who’s starting to feel her age and wants to get several rounds of cosmetic surgery to find her perfect man. Osborne, now at home decides to write his memoirs as a book much to the consternation of his wife, who’s been advised to covertly get all of his financial information to help expedite the divorce process. A CD with Osborne’s information falls into the hand of Linda and her dimwit friend Chad and from there… the literal hijinks ensue.

Confused? Well, don’t be, all comes together in a highly entertaining way in this extremely black comedy from the Coen Brothers, Burn After Reading their sorbet follow-up to last year’s Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men. I say “sorbet” because essentially this is a palette cleanser compared to the grimness that was in their previous movie, but it’s not all happiness and light here either, but still an extremely welcome change of pace from the Coens.

There’s nothing at all out there like this today, basically being this extremely smart black comedy about a bunch of people who could best be described as functioning idiots. And while it’s not the type of movie that’s wall-to-wall laughs, it has it’s moments, and still comes together to just be an extremely good time.

The Coens of course know what they’re doing, and these characters are all very well drawn out. I have to give some special note to their longtime musical collaborator Carter Burwell as well, for delivering a very cool score that of course just runs extremely counter to anything you’d expect in a comedy.

The Coens have a great cast at work here- John Malkovich as Osborne, George Clooney as Harry, Frances McDormand as Linda, Tilda Swinton as Katie and Brad Pitt as Chad all do great work here and they’re all well backed up by folks like David Rasche, the always solid Richard Jenkins, and J.K. Simmons who literally steals the movie in both of the scenes that he’s in.

Burn After Reading is just an extremely good time at the movies, and as I said above, a very welcome change of pace film from the Coens that’s sort of a mix of movies like Hopscotch and A Fish Called Wanda but still comes out in the end to be something all it’s own. I cannot recommend this one enough, it’s just a really good time, and certainly up there with the best that I’ve seen for the year.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

13. September 2008 by Darren Goodhart
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