Burn After Reading (15)



Comedy (2008)
95mins US

Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, JK Simmons, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writer(s): Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Former CIA agent Osbourne Cox pens his memoirs but an electronic copy of the manuscript inadvertently ends up in the possession of gym employee Chad Feldheimer and co-worker Linda Litzke. They hit upon the brilliant idea of blackmailing Osbourne in exchange for the safe return of the memoirs. The former agent refuses to pay the ransom so Chad and Linda head to the Russian embassy, intent on selling Osbourne's secrets to the enemy. Meanwhile, Osbourne's wife Katie is engaged in an extra marital affair with serial womaniser Harry Pfarrer, who has begun dating lonely Linda.

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LondonNet Film Review
Burn After Reading

After the agonising tension and brutality of their Oscar-winning opus No Country For Old Men, writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to comedic territory with this pithy tale of espionage and infidelity...

Burn After Reading. Copyright: 2008 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.Burn After Reading is not classic Coen brothers fare but there are enough flashes of brilliance to keep us smirking for almost the entire 95 minutes. A large proportion of those laughs are reserved for Brad Pitt, who slicks up his hair and gamely throws himself into the role of a dim-witted gym employee. Whether he is dancing goofily to music on his MP3 player or attempting to conceal his identity by adopting a ridiculous raspy voice, we cannot help but chuckle at his misadventures.

The double-act with Frances McDormand's cosmetic surgery-obsessed spinster is a joy to behold, like when they vet her potential suitors on a dating website. "Does he look like he would have a sense of humour?" she ponders. "His optometrist has a sense of humour," replies Pitt, consigning that particular respondent to the recycle bin. The coup de grace is a genius invention, hidden from prying eyes in a cellar, which will be the envy of every frustrated housewife.

Former CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) pens his memoirs but an electronic copy of the manuscript inadvertently ends up in the possession of gym employee Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) and co-worker Linda Litzke (McDormand). She desperately needs cash to enhance her drooping attributes, so Chad and Linda explore the possibility of blackmailing Osbourne in exchange for the safe return of the disk containing his tome. "This could put a big dent in my surgeries," remarks Linda dreamily.

Burn After Reading. Copyright: 2008 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.Unfortunately, the former agent refuses to pay the ransom so Chad and Linda head to the Russian embassy, intent on selling Osbourne's secrets to the enemy. Meanwhile, Osbourne's hard-nosed wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is engaged in an extra marital affair with serial womaniser Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who has also begun dating lonely Linda. Unbeknownst to all of them, the CIA is monitoring every move, determined to find out who is leaking top-secret information to the Russians.

Burn After Reading is peppered with colourful, idiosyncratic characters we love and loathe in equal measure. Malkovich relishes his role as a hard-drinking curmudgeon, who cannot believe the audacity and incompetence of his two would-be blackmailers. Clooney essays another charming oddball, not a million miles away from Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, while McDormand brings a touching vulnerability to her opportunist. The scene where a surgeon draws over her body, to show where he intends to cut, suction and tuck, is strangely moving. Even the smallest roles are gifted brilliant one-liners, like J.K. Simmons as the exasperated CIA boss whose field agents are watching Chad and Linda. "Report back to me when, I don't know, when it makes sense," he sighs. It doesn't entirely, but enjoy anyway.

- Kim Hu


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