Despite sex, murder and mayhem, ‘Burn After Reading’ falls flat
September 18, 2008
With such talented actors in front of the camera and the brilliant Coen brothers behind it, one would think the cast and crew of “Burn After Reading” would’ve just shown up on the set and created an instant masterpiece.
But alas, that is not the case.
The Coen brothers are responsible for creating some outstanding films ” “The Big Lebowski,” “No Country For Old Men,” “Raising Arizona,” “Fargo” ” but they can’t all be mega-successes or instant classics, some of them are bound to be just OK. That’s where “Burn After Reading” falls.
While it does contain some interesting and shockingly violent moments, overall, it’s a slow and uneven film that doesn’t really disappoint, it just doesn’t seem to have a point.
The film weaves in and out of several story lines with a loosely common thread running between them ” a CD which supposedly contains highly classified government secrets. Only it doesn’t ” just the memoirs of former CIA agent Osbourne Cox, a questionable alcoholic whose devilish wife (Tilda Swinton) is cheating on him with chronic womanizer and federal agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney). The disc is accidentally left on the locker room floor of a gym where it’s discovered by the liposuction-obsessed Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and goofy Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) who decide to blackmail Osbourne for the safe return of his “raw intelligence.”
You have to give the Coens credit. They tried to combine elements of a spy movie with a quirky sex comedy and to some degree they pull it all off. There are some laughs, but not enough, and only a few are memorable. The spy element of the movie often feels like a forced device; and aside from two or three abrupt and unexpected plot twists, nothing really happens. It barely succeeds at making its greater point of the ineptitude of modern American government and the corrupt society it tries to protect.
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Clooney breezes through the movie and it’s obvious his sexually-deviant character is having most of the fun. The rest of the starring cast plays their parts with no real trouble, and the supporting cast (J.K. Simmons, Richard Jenkins and David Rasche) work hard to glean more laughs and humanity from the script.
I don’t think anyone will have the nerve to say this is the Coen’s best work, and it certainly isn’t their worst, but it does prove they aren’t afraid to keep taking chances ” even if they only hit the target most of the time; and that works just fine for me.
High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.