Last year, Joel and Ethan Coen shocked and awed audiences all over with their gritty (by their standards at least) indie film “No Country for Old Men.” Now, they follow up that very dramatic film with one of the funnier films to grace the silver screens this year. “Burn After Reading” is a roller coaster of emotions that will have you laughing one moment and gasping in shock the next.
Ex-CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) loses a CD containing his memoirs and is blackmailed by two dimwitted gym employees (Brad Pitt and Francis McDormand). Things get even crazier when Cox is divorced by his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) who is having an affair with a ladies man named Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney). And that is all I am going to mention about the plot. Because the farther I go, the more likely I am going to spoil the film for you.
While the film is excellently written, I was also sold on the well-done scenes of violence that are sprinkled in. Of course “No Country for Old Men” had some extremely violent moments in it, but I found moments in “Burn After Reading” that were just as comparable (to which I applaud the marketing behind this film since we are lead to believe that this film is just all laughs… not so).
Many skeptics out there are wondering whether or not this film is actually good. I will say that it is definitely not a “Big Lebowski” but it is definitely a much better film than “The Ladykillers.” I think it is easy to say that this is the most commercial the Coens have gone before, and it works, mainly due to both the direction and the amazing cast.
I say direction because this movie has so many twists and turns amongst all the different storylines, that they could’ve been lost in the hands of lesser filmmakers, but here they make sense. Never will you get confused in this movie, which is amazing for something with such a complex narrative and so many characters. Then, in terms of acting, the entire cast was brilliant; my favorite being John Malkovich. Of course, he tends to be good in just about anything but I felt like he really excelled in this film. I especially love the scene between Malkovich and Brad Pitt when they first meet face to face. See it, and you’ll understand.
The film does have a few flaws, however, and I did feel like something was missing to push it to the final plateau of greatness, and that is that the film is over before you even know it. The movie is about 97 minutes long, which is about the standard running time movie-goers can handle in this day and age, yet, I wanted to see so much more, especially more J.K. Simmons (he steals the show for the few scenes he was in).
If you are a fan of the Coen Brothers, you owe it to yourself to see this film. It’s not their greatest film, but it is so much fun to watch and in a time when Apatow is king of comedy, it is refreshing to see something different.