Review: Burn After Reading


Burn After Reading is ridiculous and funny. A fantastic combo.

There will be detractors, mark my words. Those people who think the Coen brothers’ films are too cynical and have unlikable characters won’t change their minds with this: these characters are despicable. And to that I say: good. Great. They’re funny. If you can’t see Brad Pitt’s idiocy (he plays a knucklehead) or Frances McDormand’s vanity (she’s a middle-aged player) in yourself and the joker next to you, than you’re either too precious or a better person than I. It makes us laugh at how silly we all are.

It’s like watching two people having a fight over something mundane. The first guy jimmie-jammies this way and that way, and then distracts the second guy by waving one hand. The second guy, turning to the hand and his concentration diverted, receives a firm slap to the head. And you laugh, and you like seeing this. Some people just don’t like seeing that.

The Coen brothers’s talent is a very underrated one – the ability to make things interesting. Burn After Reading is a beat ahead of the audience and is always unpredictable, the details and character oddities are stacked. This is why their films, even their not so good ones, are intriguing and it’s why you can watch them over and over (often seeming to improve the second time).

Plus it’s put together with precision, and not a moment of your time is wasted. Washington DC looks all washed out and alabaster, pleasingly contrasted with some pretty dark elements. Seamless shot and sound design is on show during the set pieces.

This is a caper-like film, similar in step to Raising Arizona and Intolerable Cruelty. At times it’s a bit spoof-y. So the actors overplay it, which I found initially hard to get into. I’ve always struggled with marquee actors in these films too, they distract me. George Clooney and Brad Pitt both deliver at times hilarious, out of the box performances which are fun to watch, but neither slink into place as much as Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton or the awesome John Malkovich (a genius man).

This isn’t The Big Lebowski or Miller’s Crossing, but a not so sharp Coen is far sharper than most. Loved it, and it lingers too.