I have to admit when I first saw the trailer for Burn After Reading, the latest offering from the Coen brothers, I was afraid. It looked like it might be another Intolerable Cruelty. I was still reeling from No Country for Old Men and was hoping for a similar outing. No Country was at the top of my study list, but maybe doing intense films back to back is not a good idea, not even for the Coens. My fear was so strong that I only got around to seeing this film yesterday, several weeks after it opened. I was sorry I waited that long.
All the Coen elements are present. A wide array of familiar characters, plot twists, murder (of course), blackmail and everyone is cheating on everyone. It’s all wrapped up in a nice tidy package in a final exchange inside CIA headquarters.
John Malkovich plays Osbourne Cox, an analyst for the CIA with a level three security clearance. Due to a drinking problem he is asked by his boss to take a step back in his career. He becomes furious, and quits. This opening scene catapults the story forward and we find ourselves at a dinner party Osbourne and his wife, Katie Cox, played ice cold and calculating by Tilda Swinton, are hosting. At that event we meet Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and we’re off to the races.
Since he is now unemployed, Ozzie, as Osbourne is called, works on his memoirs. While we watch him slowly unwind and get a feel for his relationship with Katie, the film moves to Hardbodies Fitness Center, where Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) work. A mysterious computer disk is found in the locker room and Chad and Linda are convinced it is full of spy secrets and begin their blackmail scheme. It’s here that the Coens stop their nice tidy connect the dots story line and start bouncing all over the place. Fate and coincidence take over the plot and the ride gets stranger and funnier by the minute.
It’s kind of a spy movie, but the subtitle (intelligence is relative) hints that these guys may not be the sharpest tools in the shed. The script is funny and the style is dramatic comedy that goes back and forth between horror and disbelief.
Great performances, strong camera work, and witty dialog delivered with fantastic timing make this a really enjoyable film experience. I laughed out loud several times, as did most everyone in the packed theater. Recommended.
Visit the official web site here. Read the background copy of the site carefully.