R for pervasive language, some sexual content, and violence.
Comedy, Crime, Gangster
Sept. 12, 2008
George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
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Burn After Reading
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Senior Producer
- After last year’s western drama No Country for Old Men, the Cohen brothers return to the dark satire for which they are best known with Burn After Reading. One would think that with an all-star cast that includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and J.K. Simmons this film is sure to be a winner. Unfortunately, the bad language, graphic violence, and crude sexual material outweigh any positives that could have made this film enjoyable.
Pitt stars as Chad Feldheimer, a bumbling gym employee who has more enthusiastic energy than brains. His co-worker, Linda, (Frances McDormand) is searching for love on the internet and longs to improve her looks through plastic surgery. When the two stumble upon a disc of information belong to a former CIA agent, they decide to use it to blackmail him in the hopes of getting rich.
The CIA agent that they target, Osborne Cox, (John Malkovich) was removed from his job because of alcoholism. His life at home isn’t much better. His demanding and critical wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer, a ladies’ man with a penchant for exercise played by Clooney.
As Chad and Linda work their plans of blackmail by attempting to sell their information to the Russians, chaos ensues. The elements that move the plot forward include a mixture of affairs, paranoia, and miscommunications. Eventually, as their plans go awry, the blackmail scheme becomes an out-of-hand nightmare that the CIA feels it must clean up by any means necessary.
The Cohen brothers typically use violence in their films for shock value and comedic effect, and this film is no exception. Several scenes are quite graphic.
Perhaps the highlight of this film is watching Pitt in a comedic role. His onscreen antics are hilarious. In fact, all of these goofy characters are just odd enough as to be entertaining. The situations they find themselves in could have also been entertaining had it not been for the deluge of profanities and crude sexual references that accompanied them.
Buried deep within the film there is are subtle messages about greed and human nature. Unfortunately, the film’s admirable messages are marred by the movie’s negative elements.
Instead of reaching a satisfying conclusion, the film’s ending leaves us scratching our heads along with two of the movie’s characters. Just before the credits role, one character asks another one, "What have we learned?" His reply, “I don’t know, sir.”
My sentiments exactly. Don’t waste your time on this one.
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