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BURN AFTER READING, 2008
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BURN AFTER READING MOVIE POSTER
BURN AFTER READING, 2008
Movie Reviews

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton
Review by Eli Manning



SYNOPSIS:

A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.

REVIEW:

Let me start by saying that this is my second least favorite Coen Brothers film, just behind O Brother For Art Though and not nearly as bad as Intolerable Cruelty. What do those two films also have in common with Burn After Rising? They all star George Clooney.

Clooney is a man I respect a great deal and you figure that he would hit the jackpot at least once with the Coen Brothers. But he misses the mark again. Playing the sex addict Harry Pfarrer in Burn After Reading, he does a terrific job. Unfortunately the film doesn't work as a whole.

I love the Coen Brothers as I think they have accumulated the best film-making body of work in the last 25 years. A poor Coen Brothers film is better than an average good film. But Burn after Reading was a film I never got fully engaged with and I wanted to like it so much, but it just couldn't happen.

The film starts and ends in a strange CGI shot above the world. I kind of got where they were going with it but it just seemed unnecessary for this type of genre and story. Then there is about 25 minutes of character establishment happening where it was hard to fully engage into the actual story. There wasn't a character to attach yourself with because you really never got to know anyone.

Burn After Reading in many ways has the same type of tone as Fargo. There are nice characters, bad characters and mainly characters who are in over their heads in the situation they attach themselves to. Everyone is basically selfish and self-involved to truly understand anything except what's in front of them. We get these characters because most of us have met people like this or worse, are one of them.

But what it misses is the moral center character that Fargo had in Police Chief Marge Gunderson. Adding a person like that into a film gives the audience the feeling that there is at least something good in the world. I guess they tried it in Brad Pitt's dumb personal trainer Chad character, but it's hard to respect a not too smart person. You can like them, but not really respect them.

In Burn After Reading the overriding joke is that the world is stupid and dumb things take place, so we might as well laugh at it. That's all fine and good, but perhaps a tad too cynical for my taste.

Not that there aren't great moments in the film. And in many ways it's a landmark film. The only way to describe the genre of Burn After Reading in its proper context is to call it a Light/Dark Comedy. Or a Light Hearted Drama. It's filmed like a comedy and it's tone is set like a comedy but there is an extreme sadness to every joke. So much so that I felt uncomfortable during the entire screening. So this is a must see in many ways because it's a Coen Brothers film and they are trying out new material. Kind of like a brilliant standup comic would. This time it didn't work but it probably needs this film to learn and prepare for their next one.

Watch out for Richard Jenkins playing a small role as the Gym Manager. A character who defines what is really wrong with the world today. A person who is so good and does all the right things but doesn't have the guts to express his thoughts to the world and to the people who really need to hear them. He just wants to fit in and does things that he shouldn't do. That's the character I wanted to follow.

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