Burn After Reading (2008)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

USA/United Kingdom/France, 2008, , , , .  Screenplay by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.  Cinematography by .  Produced by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen.  

After getting fired from a relatively low-level job at the CIA, irate former agent John Malkovich decides that the best plan of action is to write a tell-all memoir about the agency. Sexy wife Tilda Swinton downloads his finances from his computer to use against him in divorce proceedings and accidentally includes a draft of his book onto the disk. A copy of it ends up on the floor of a gym locker room and into the hands of clueless personal trainers Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand and from there spirals a mountain of mishaps that all stem from information the CIA could give a rat’s ass about leaking.

The Coen Brothers, returning to the snarky, self-aware cinematic tone that marks their worst movies, are so desperate to be ranked with Preston Sturges that this harmless comedy seems all the worse for their begging. While it features some fun performances (especially McDormand), it also suffers from movie star syndrome: George Clooney (as Swinton’s bumbling agent lover) and Pitt are too busy patting themselves on the back for playing against type to give actual performances–look at Swinton’s commitment to the role for a proper comparison of skill–while the plotting is clever but in the end amounts to little more than a silly, comedy souffle.

That, you say, was what it was meant to be, but the Brothers film it like they’re anticipating its being a classic in the decades to come and, while I can’t say I have the foresight to know the eventual truth to that possibility, I also don’t know that any movie ever hit the history books because its director(s) said it should.

Golden Globe Award NominationsBest Picture-Musical/Comedy; Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Frances McDormand)

Toronto International Film Festival:  2008


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