Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, J.K Simmons, Tilda Swinton, David Rasche, Olek Krupa, Elizabeth Marvel
Ponderous. Interesting. Dry.
The Coen brothers have quite possibly the most eclectic filmography of any film-makers. They’ll give you a genre classic like No Country for Old Men, and then follow it up with this baffling espionage comedy. As far as comedies go, Burn After Reading is dry as hell, and occasionally, memorably violent. Do we like any of these bumbling idiots as they create a tangled mess over worthless CIA secrets? Does it matter? The plot is thick but inconsequential, the characters are rich but unrelatable, and, in the end, the CIA head summarizes our feelings, when he asks, “what did we learn?” On the one hand, the film is funny, an absurdist comedy wherein the Coen brothers make a movie doing what most script gurus explicitly tell you not to do: push the plot forward with character’s stupidity. On the other hand, for a film to be loved, something has to matter, and a good portion of Burn After Reading’s laughs could be described just as easily as viewed. Plus the supporting cast in this ensemble outshine the headliners. Malkovich is hilarious as the fired CIA agent on a profane rampage to get his stolen memoirs, Richard Jenkins infuses the story with at least some pathos when he’s on screen as the victim of unrequited love, and J.K Simmons, as the aforementioned CIA head, is called on to deliver what I would say is the punchline, with the film being one very long joke. He delivers it admirably.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-