After becoming the talk of Hollywood with their film masterpiece No Country For Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen have become recognized by just about everyone these days. So when their new film, Burn After Reading, came out, everyone wondered if it would become another shining mark on the Coen brothers’ already impressive record, which includes such classics as Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?
With recognizable talent galore for their newest film, the Coen brothers no doubt caught the attention of many. Names such as George Clooney, John Malkovich and Brad Pitt rarely appear in the same film, unless they believe in the project or are just hoping to be apart of another award-winning film. But after taking in a screening of Burn After Reading, I think it is safe to say the running for best film this year is still wide open.
The movie focuses on an ex-CIA operative named Osborne Cox (played by Malkovich), who is losing his wife (played by Tilda Swinton) to a man obsessed with sex and hardwood floors by the name of Harry Pfarrer (played by Clooney). In the midst of being left by his wife, copies of Cox’s CIA memoirs find their way into the hands of two bumbling idiot gym employees. Linda Litzke (played by Frances McDormand) is fixated on getting plastic surgery so she can find an attractive man, but does not have the money for the procedures. Seeing the discovery of the top-secret information as an option to blackmail Cox and get enough money to look pretty again, Litzke enlists the help of her dimwitted co-worker, Chad Feldheimer (played by Pitt).
As the story progresses, events get crazier and crazier, showing the viewer just how out of control situations can get when everyone involved is misinformed or clouded in their judgment. It spirals into a dark comedy with a few fun twists, but never presents itself as a mind-blowing or standout film.
The performances of Clooney, Malkovich, McDormand and Pitt were a nothing short of delightful to watch. But in the end the story was only semi-engaging and was just good enough to merit watching it once or twice. If anyone sees this movie hoping for the next No Country For Old Men, you’re in for a disappointment. But if you want to see a solid film that is well shot, well directed and heavy with dark humor, you will be pleased.
By no means did the Coen brothers misstep by making this film, they merely added one more sound title to their resume of accomplished film-making. If I see this movie again, it would be to revel in the phenomenal acting of Malkovich and Pitt. That’s why I give this film a B-.