Burn After Reading, reviewed

By Tatiana Craine

So two brothers from Minneapolis walk into a bar, order a few bottles of Summit and decide, “Let’s make fun of everything. Ever.” And thus, “Burn After Reading” was born.Okay, I’m sure that’s probably not how it went down, but after seeing their newest film, you might think it happened that way.

In actuality, the Coens wrote “Burn After Reading” while adapting Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men.” I feel like they needed something ridiculous to keep them going through the long, drama-filled days on the set in New Mexico and Texas. And that’s exactly what “Burn After Reading” is: ridiculous.

I walked into the movie knowing only that it was a Coen film, that it had five of Hollywood’s A-list stars (John Malkovich, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt), and that it was supposed to be uproariously funny. At least, that was the plan.

Alcoholic Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) gets fired from his job at the CIA. Cox subsequently decides to write a memoir. That’s when shit goes down. We learn Cox’s wife (Swinton) is having an affair with Clooney’s chauvinistic and fitness-crazed character, Harry. Two dunderheads from the local gym (McDormand and Pitt) accidentally get their hands on Cox’s secret CIA data and try to pull Good Samaritan wool over Cox’s eyes in exchange for money. That’s all I can say.

“Burn After Reading” is a character piece more than anything. The plot has elements that beg to be fleshed out or toned down, never quite finding a happy medium. The film follows a classic Coen brothers’ plot line: simpletons trying to get rich quick, resulting in dark comedy and most often, blood. McDormand’s character tries to fund multiple cosmetic surgeries in efforts to snag Mr. Right. She hooks Pitt’s character, Chad, into the get-rich-quick scheme-and manages to get the Russians involved, too. How this would happen in a legitimately plot-driven movie, I don’t know. But here, it works. With the Coens, I was able to willingly suspend my disbelief and just go with it-wherever it took me. I rode on a bike (not a Schwinn) with Brad Pitt, got punched in the face by John Malkovich, and watched a very sexy George Clooney build a very unsexy machine.

In the end, I felt like the Coens just wanted to make a farce about spies, divorce, sex, Washington, D.C., exercise, getting old, internet dating, more sex, the wealthy, frigid bitches, children’s books authors, and your mom. Okay, maybe they left your mother’s dignity intact, but everything else was fair game. It seemed like “Burn After Reading” really was just a way to chill out after a hard day of dealing with sociopaths in “No Country” Regardless, the film works.

My advice? Go to the theater expecting a Coen comedy. That is, amusing and strange situations, sharp wit, and a healthy pinch of drama. Like “Fargo,” minus the wood chipper. By no means is this as brilliant as “No Country” or as comedic as “O Brother Where Art Thou,” but it definitely has its fair share of shining moments.