Review: Burn After Reading
PLOT: After finding a disk with possible confidential material, two half-wit gym employees, Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer take it upon themselves to try and return it… with a cost. Along the way, blackmail, adultery and murder come into play as the two find themselves in way over their heads. Soon, the CIA wants to find out who is doing what to who and why.
REVIEW:The first time I saw FARGO, I went back the very same night to see it again. It was one of those rare occasions that I wanted to see all the little intricacies that I may have missed the first time. Not only in the story, but in the wonderful performances and of course the visuals that the Coen Brothers presented. That is something I have maybe done three times as an audience member. So is it all that surprising that it would happen again with another film from Ethan and Joel? Not at all, while I do not blindly love each and every movie they make, the ones that work, really work. Needless to say, I wanted to see BURN AFTER READING again directly after my initial viewing. It is a hilarious, shocking, unnerving and oftentimes ridiculous film that makes it easily one of my favorites so far this year. How often does a movie truly surprise? I had no idea where this was going, and didn’t want or need to know. Along the way, I found myself really enjoying my time spent with every single character involved.
The truth is, I don’t really want to expand on the plot because I fear it would give too much away. It does however involve things like blackmail, liposuction, “security of shit” and much more. But it’s surrounded by people doing things they shouldn’t and getting in way over their heads. Seriously, I feel that this is a movie that you should see with absolutely no prior knowledge to it. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll be fine because it is not all that revealing as to the complex and absurd nature of what happens throughout. The script (written by the bros) is funny, shocking and even suspenseful on some levels. While I think the tone here is not quite as dark as FARGO, it may be more in league with THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Either way, it is such an impressive ride and it leads to one of most creative and humorous endings I have seen in quite awhile.
What really drew me in was the look and sound of the film. Carter Burwell has continually created a moody atmosphere with his scoring for the brothers Coen. There is one moment in this film where the towering buildings of the city and his rich orchestration brought a smile to my face. And as for the look, the opening sequence with a CG zoom from above into the corridors of a Washington D.C. facility, literally pulled you in. With that, the sound design bleeds in as the hum of the fluorescent lights and the sound of footsteps are incorporated into the scene. There is much to love here. It is a very skewed, although straight-forward look. We are shown these strange people in such a way that you feel like they are just a bit “off kilter”, which makes sense because the main characters do feel real, albeit slightly exaggerated and bizarre.
As far as performances, John Malkovich starts the ball rolling early on with his wonderful work. In the beginning, you really feel sympathy for the guy. He is just a man that is tired of the bureaucracy and wants to change his life. But his layers peel as does each and every performance from an extremely talented cast. I loved J.K. Simmons in a small role as he is almost given the eyes of the audience. He is so straightforward and honest, and offers up a couple of big laughs as a guy who just doesn’t get what the hell is happening. But the most interesting relationship lies with Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt as Linda and Chad. Both are very appealing, if not all that likeable. Linda is only out for one person… herself, while Chad is just sort of a moron. But the funny thing is, his moron is a very amiable and sweet character. I would easily put this as one of Mr. Pitt’s most entertaining roles.
Truthfully, I was utterly thrilled by BURN AFTER READING. Although a minor complaint would be that at one point in the middle while dealing with “the Russians”, it seemed to run out of steam. But somehow, it picked itself up and topped itself off with a nice heaping pile of whipped cream and a cherry on top. I really loved the ending. But I gather some audiences may find it hard to accept the “point” of the film and I think this may be a fair criticism to an extent. It is one of those movies that I think will gain respect a few years down the road, much like “The Dude” did. After all, THE BIG LEBOWSKI wasn’t necessarily the cream of the crop upon its initial release. This will be a film, much like Lebowski, that will be worth revisiting to see all the layers unfold in their own special way.
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