"Burn After Reading," the latest gem from Joel and Ethan Coen, is a conspiracy espionage thriller featuring a "league of morons" fighting over nothing, and the disastrous consequences for just about everyone involved.
It all starts when CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is canned from the agency for having a bit of a drinking problem. To get back at his bosses for this injustice, he decides to write a memoir on his experiences, much to the dumbfounded amusement of his cold wife Katie (Tilda Swinton).
It is surprising she even manages to chide him for his next career move, as her attention is focused on getting a secret divorce from him, and carrying on an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney). Harry is a paranoid former federal marshal in the Treasury Department who spends his time jogging after his numerous sexual exploits, and building a secret "gift" for his wife, who writes children’s books.
Acting upon the advice of her divorce attorney, Katie makes a copy of Osborne’s financial assets. She burns information from his computer onto a CD, which ends up in the hands of two gym employees (AKA – the "league of morons") and the chain of absolute stupidity begins.
Desperately needing funds for her head-to-toe plastic surgery makeover project, gym manager Linda (Frances McDormand) teams up with clueless trainer Chad (played brilliantly by Brad Pitt) to extort money from Osborne because they believe this disc is actually full of sensitive government secrets.
The middle of the night phone call to Osborne by the two dimwits is hilarious, and I wonder how many takes the actors had to do because they could not keep a straight face. My favorite part in that scene was when Chad is reading a few secrets to Cox and he mistakenly pronounces rapport like "report" which increases the ire of the drunken former CIA analyst.
His outburst sends our two goofs to the Russian embassy, where they intend to hand over the classified disc for a price – a price that ultimately puts all of the characters lives into needless jeopardy.
"Burn After Reading" is one of those movies you really should not be laughing at for ethical reasons, but it is impossible not to. For instance, I was literally crying from laughing so much when Cox catches an intruder in his house and chases after him with a hammer with his open robe blowing in the wind. It is not so much the scenario, but the acting that gets me.
Each actor seems to relish their roles (which were hand-written for them by the Coen Brothers) but it’s Malkovich who really stands out. You can tell his character is literally a mispronounced word away losing his mind, and when he finally does, it’s masterful.
This movie is definitely not the light comedy it is portrayed as in the trailers; it is a much darker fare, perfect for the skills of the Coen brothers. No writers or directors do dark comedies quite like them, nor are they as inventive with doling out the poetic justice either.
I gave this film a B+.
Dedra Cordle is a Messenger staff writer.