Thursday, September 18, 2008

You think it's a Schwinn!

Burn After Reading

Release: 09.12.08
Rated R
1 hour, 36 minutes

Full Price ($$$$) <
> Matinee ($$$)

If you're Joel or Ethan Coen and you've just exhausted yourself finishing what will be one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, what would you do next? I'd get together with my family and some friends and enjoy myself. That's exactly what the Coens did. For them, enjoyment is penning and directing a dark comedy like Burn After Reading.

The audience enters into the story of Burn quite literally as the world turns, swooping down from the stars into the stark halls of CIA headquarters. Longtime analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich, Shadow of the Vampire) enters into his supervisor's office. He is told he's being demoted due to his drinking problem, to which he tells his accusers where they can stick their new job and all his years of service. Once home, Osborne can't seek solace from his cold wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton, Constantine), because they are preparing to host guests, including their friend, and Katie's lover, Harry (George Clooney, Intolerable Cruelty). Cut to Linda Litske (Frances McDormand, Friends With Money), a middle-aged lady looking to improve her physique through a series of medical procedures. When Linda's friend and fellow Hardbodies gym employee, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt, True Romance), uncovers intelligence information on a CD found in a locker room, they concoct a plan to return the CD to its owner, hopefully reaping a bountiful Good Samaritan's reward in the process.

If there's one thing I've learned from my cinematic encounters with the Coen brothers, it's that they write stupid well. Not just stupidity, but egotism and arrogance, too. Even though the characters' stories seem random and only superficially interconnected, Osborne, Katie, Chad, Harry, and Linda are all afflicted with a staggering case of self-involvement. Despite their highest hopes, the world does not revolve around them, which the Coens point out through clever camera work. The assembled cast is excellent. Malkovich plays haughty indignance to perfection. Clooney gets to goof around with some quirky hang-ups and fascinations. Pitt and McDormand, and Richard Jenkins (North Country), who plays their boss, bring clueless to a whole new level.

Burn has a constant intrusion of thrilling espionage music that will keep you on edge as the stories unfold. I fully expected this barrage of random events to erupt into a coherent conclusion like any fulfilling spy movie. That neatly packaged ending never came, but as always, the Coen brothers satisfyingly resolved the film.

Dirty Undies
The confusing story elements really keep you off guard, which is awesome when a random act of violence or sex punches you, causing gut-wrenching laughter. These moments were the most reminiscent of The Big Lebowski for me. Also, Chad has an affinity for the shit; he talks about the shit, gets excited about the shit, thinks the shit will solve all their problems, but can't handle it when the shit rises.

The Money Shot
Despite my excitement, I wasn't completely sold on Burn After Reading. Deep down, my action fiend yearned for some grand climax. When I see it for a second time, I will no doubt enjoy it more. In the best Coen films, there is always something new to be gleaned from multiple viewings. I can't wait to see what I learn best get started so you can tell me what I missed.

Large Association of Movie Blogs


  1. First, your sight is freaking hilarious. I love your rating system so much it hurts.

    And well done with your plot summary of Burn. You're much more capable than me!

  2. "but as always, the Coen brothers satisfyingly resolved the film."

    Thought this line was funny considering how many people (including me) had a problem with the ending to No Country. Still, I see your point.

    Also, I feel the same about the overall feeling it left me with and my readiness to see it again in 6 months. I didn't dislike it, but I wasn't rofl-ing, either. Mostly, I just enjoyed watching the actors enjoy themselves.

    Shame on you for neglecting to mention JK Simmons - he was about the funniest one there. And Sledge Hammer! Love Rasche.

  3. @blake- Thanks! Trying to summarize Burn was a feat, it's a tough film to put into a couple quick lines.

    @fletch- I should have added "as always in their comedies" - I was thinking more about Lebowski and Arizona than No Country. That one does trump my statement.

    You know I wanted to mention Sledgehammer! I was running a little long already so I had to leave the CIA guys on the post room floor. Simmons and Rasche were great.

  4. I'm sorry to burst everyone's bubble but I thought Burn After Reading sucked ass. This movie doesn't hold a candle to Tropic Thunder. Its not even in the same league.

    It was nice to see Sledgehammer in a flick though.

  5. Sacrilege! How dare you speak ill of the Coens.

    Actually, I can't remember how many weeks after Ladykillers I complained about that film, so everyone has their faults. Obviously, I didn't think BaR was one of theirs.

    I plan on watching both BaR and Tropic Thunder again. To me, both were very enjoyable, but the panda scene in TT lost major points with me.

  6. I'll never watch BaR again. Hell no. I just saw Old School again, which I have seen thousands of times, and laughed more than at BaR.

  7. Old School is one of my all time fave films and on a whole other level of hilarity from BaR.

  8. Exactly. So why would I watch a lesser film? I'll stick with the best.

  9. I really enjoyed BaR, did not find Old School amusing at all. Is it a man thing?

  10. @film-book: Can't really go wrong with multiple viewings of Old School.

    @IW: I'd say Old School is a guy thing, but my wife loves it too. Are you a Ferrell fan? When most folks dislike OS it's b/c they don't appreciate Will.