Burn After Reading

Paul Yim Paul Yim: (paulyim-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-09-20 00:47:12

Burn After Reading - Rank A


Burn After Reading, I'm sure you've heard by now, is a very funny movie. Joel and Ethan Coen have been sharpening their razor wit since Raising Arizona and their mastery of black comedy has finally reached critical mass with Burn After Reading.

Mel Brooks once said that if a man falls down a manhole – that's a tragedy, but if a man falls down a manhole and dies – that's comedy. The Coens use that statement as a mere departure point and send that man's corpse down the sewer to be dumped in some river that supplies a whole town with drinking water. In every respect, Burn After Reading is the sharpened point of the pencil of all the blackest comedies that came before it. The key, I've discovered, are the scenes in which the two CIA agents discuss the "case". It's a creative and interesting way to explicate the plot to us and it's funny as hell. Without these scenes the film would be a very very depressing movie, owing much of its force to the cavalcade of thoroughbred actors.

George Clooney heads this all-star cast as Harry Pfarrer – a narcissistic Treasury Department operative bordering on paranoid delusion. He first comes off as very neurotic and quirky, but as the layers of his poorly built façade are peeled away, we see him for what he really is. He is totally incapable of coping with his many hypocrisies, and so he cannot relate to anyone on any meaningful level other than a sexual one. He's a very sad character indeed, but his fate pales in comparison to some of the others.

Frances McDormand plays Linda Litzke – a 50-something gym worker utterly convinced that she needs plastic surgery to be truly happy. She is borderline psychotic in her belief that if she were physically perfect, then "Mr. Right" would swoop in and sweep her off her feet, as it were. Because of this unwavering pursuit of her own happiness, the happiness (and even the well-being) of others is secondary. At best.

But the one character that truly lends voice to these denizens of Hell is Osborn Cox, played by John Malkovich. Here is a man so completely convinced of his own importance that he must - MUST - pronounce the word "memoir" in the original French pronunciation every time he says it. His father is the only person who will sit and listen to his son talk. It may have something to do with his father being a vegetable. Maybe.

Brad Pitt is the show stealer as mindless gym trainer Chad Feldheimer. This guy is the epitome of the vernacular "tool". The only reason he can count to 100 is the fact that he has to count his daily caloric intake every now and then. He's so stupid it's sad.

Sadness is the only problem I had with the movie. The Coens and their stable of A-list actors perform so admirably that the film nearly loses its precarious grip on the zany cliffs of comedy, threatening to drop us into the sea of sorrow below. See this film with your drinkin' buddies. Leave the kids at grandma's and take the wife; only surround yourselves with popcorn and brightly colored candy wrappers because, if you're not careful, this little 96 minute laughfest will leave you in tears.

The second link is the Blu-Ray version of the film.

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