For those that loved No Country for Old Men and are excited to see what those brilliant Coen brothers have in store for us, you may need to go rent instead.
Burn After Reading is the Coen’s returning to their familiar form. Much in the way of Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty, the Coen’s deliver yet another tall tale about stupid people doing stupid things.
This time we have a recently laid off CIA man (John Malkovich) whose snotty wife (Tilda Swinton) wants a divorce to be with her dimwitted lover (George Clooney). But somehow some of Malkovich’s secret CIA files are found by an over caffeinated gym worker (Brad Pitt) who shares his plot for blackmail with his BFF (Frances McDormand) and well, you get the idea.
Not to concern ourselves with plot, which lets admit, the Coen’s can get a little ahead of themselves with, lets instead focus on the performances. Brad Pitt, fresh off his miraculous performances in Babel and The Assassination of Jesse James, is a revelation. As Chad, Pitt jumps in head first, mocking his celebrity status and giving a completely balls-out performance as a moron with a plan. Chad wears his blonde hair high in the air, lip syncs to whatever is blasting on his iPod and comes up with idea after ludicrous idea.
From the first moment Pitt was onscreen, I was hysterical. He delivers every line with comic zeal, an incredible performance that could earn him a nomination.
Pitt is backed by the goofy Clooney who now completes his “idiot” trilogy with the Coen’s after O Brother and Intolerable Cruelty. McDormand (aka Mrs. Joel Coen) has a lot of fun filling Chad’s head with bad ideas. Swinton is devilishly good, using that same proper arrogance that got her in Oscar for Michael Clayton.
But if anyone can match Pitt, it’s the wacky Malkovich. This is his best work since he played himself in Being John Malkovich. Watch his first scene, as he slowly becomes more and more offended by the accusation that he has a drinking problem.
Burn After Reading is completely enjoyable, but those expecting No Country or Fargo should look elsewhere. The film may bite off a little more than it can chew and it wraps things up a little too neatly, but oh well, it’s fun. I’ll give anyone $10 if they don’t burst out laughing when they see what Clooney’s character has been making in his basement. B+