the fresh films reviews

S I N C E   1 9 9 7


Burn After Reading (2008)

Ethan Coen
Joel Coen
Burn After Reading
96 minutes
Tim Bevan
Ethan Coen
Joel Coen
Eric Fellner
Ethan Coen
Joel Coen

Cast includes:

Harry Pfarrer George Clooney
Linda Litzke Frances McDormand
Osbourne Cox John Malkovich
Katie Cox Tilda Swinton
Chad Feldheimer Brad Pitt
Ted Treffon Richard Jenkins
Sandy Pfarrer Elizabeth Marvel
CIA Officer David Rasche
CIA Superior J. K. Simmons
Krapotkin Olek Krupa



The Coen Brothers' follow-up to their 2007 masterpiece No Country For Old Men is a relievingly light, carefree and overwhelmingly funny comedy. This time, they are poking fun at just about every social level, from goofy senior intelligence men and misanthropic intellectuals to paranoid, unfaithful middleclassers and plain gym workers who dream about success and status (and the even plainer gym workers who're just excited to be alive). The Coens suggest that no matter how important you are, or would like to think you are, chances are that you are stumbling in the dark just as much as the next bum concerning what you actually want in life. Burn After Reading is delightfully free of affiliation and mission, but still clever enough to know how and when to deliver elegantly portioned satire. It is a film conducted with tons of confidence and a complete command of the art-form. The editing (done under pseudonym by the Coens) is particularly brilliant and shows the brothers' impeccable ability as craftsmen.

Burn After Reading is first and foremost a comedy fest, made up by spirited, blithe writing and an ensemble of great acting talent getting the best out of each other. Surely, most of the performances here are over the top, but aptly so. Coen companions Clooney and McDormand are feisty in the leads, whereas Brad Pitt is hilarious as the childlike gym trainer Chad. The most powerful performances, however, belong to John Malkovich and Richard Jenkins. It is through these two characters Burn After Reading manages to mix the sweet with the bitter and hit deeply tragic human notes amidst the comedy. Malkovich is explosive in a perfect role for him. He is probably more John Malkovich here than he was in Being John Malkovich; his outbursts in many ways resemble views and quotes the Chicago actor has given in interviews.

Burn After Reading ends on a similar note as No Country For Old Men - despite the two films' obvious dissimilarities. What our baffled narrators (Jones/Harper in No Country, Rasche/Simmons here) seem to agree upon, is that they cannot really seem to be able to alter the flawed human nature. All they can do is gloss over it with words and some swift procedures. And in Rasche/Simmons case, a fair share of humour and self-irony.


Copyright 10.1.2009 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang