What I Liked: Burn After Reading is full of great performances. I love seeing Brad Pitt and George Clooney play stupid and they don’t disappoint here. Always wonderful Frances McDormand anchors the movie as her lonely character grows increasingly desparate while her scheme to pay for cosmetic surgery lands her and her friends in deep doodoo. Tilda Swinton is her usual terrifying ice queen and rounding out the cast are the reliable John Malkovich, the underrated Richard Jenkins, and, one of my favorites, J. K. Simmons. The plot cleverly interweaves several unrelated threads; Simmons’ poor CIA exec has to try to unravel the whole mess. There are plenty of laughs and more than a few surprises. Among the comedy, the Coens create a very nice spy thriller atmosphere and how they manage to make a movie populated mostly with complete idiots seem intelligent is a tribute to their talent.
What I Didn’t Like: While the first scene is funny and John Malkovich immediately captured my attention, the first half hour was largely laugh-free. The set-up of the various plotlines seemed to take a while. As other reviews and blogs have pointed out, this is a “dark” comedy, so there were moments of surprising violence. Not really an indictment against the filmmakers, just not to my tastes.
Bottom Line: A fun couple of hours if you don’t mind R-rated elements. Definitely worth the price of a matinee, worth full price if you’re a Coen fan.
Chick 2 says:
Burn After Reading is a two hour joke about the state of modern day U.S. Intelligence, with a punch-line for which you almost have to wait an entire two hours. The beginning/set-up seemed very slow, though you are aware that you are watching very talented actors at work. The carrot that was dangled in front of interest was the knowledge that the Coen brothers would inevitably tie everything together and the integration of the various plotlines would be startling. In typical Coen brother fashion the movie goes from 0 – violent in 2 seconds, and at that point keeps you guessing as to who’s going to “get it”. Frances McDormand is up to her usual standards, playing in this movie the antithesis of her character in Fargo. JK Simmons, per always, provides stellar work in his approximately 5 minutes of screen time, and it is his delivery of somewhat summary dialogue that delivers the waited-for punch-line. Over all a well-crafted, albeit slow starting tale of the oxymoron that is U.S. Intelligence.
IF you enjoy talented actors and refreshing non-formulaic movie-making, THEN go.