Burn After Reading
Burn Before Reading (this script)
Greetings all. Eskimo here.
I have been looking forward to seeing Burn After Reading since Shawn announced it as her pick in the last audio commentary. I am a bit of a closet Brad Pitt fan, especially his earlier roles in movies like Seven and Snatch, so seeing him teamed up for the first time with the Coen brothers - along with other A-list actors like Frances McDormand, George Clooney and John Malkovich - seemed like a no-brainer.
Alas, I was to be severely disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I really expected more from an all-star cast under the direction of the same creative team who brought us such gems as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and last year’s Academy-award-winning No Country for Old Men.
The plot plays out like a parody of a spy/espionage thriller. Documents are discovered by Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand’s characters, who mistakenly think they have stumbled upon top-secret government information. They then proceed to become involved in a befuddled blackmail scheme with a former CIA employee (Malkovitch) who lost the documents in the first place…or the Russian embassy…or whoever is willing to fork out some much needed cash. A side plot of overlapping, barely believable love triangles intertwines the lives of the characters. (Hence the Coen brothers' signature style, where events play out in a series of far-fetched coincidences that push the plot forward.)
The first thing I thought after the final credits rolled was that the movie was way too long. Then I looked at my watch and realized it had only lasted an hour and a half. The first two-thirds of this movie was dedicated primarily to character development, which was necessary for the audience to understand the confusing ending. Unfortunately, despite all of the time spent on development, the audience still doesn’t (or at least I didn’t) sympathize with the any of the characters. In fact, there was barely a single likable quality about anyone in the film, with the lone exception of the gym owner, whose actions were at least motivated by love.
It was the last 20 minutes or so of this film that saved it from being an utter failure. Ironically, the Coen brothers give voice to the very criticisms that I mention above, with the introduction of two CIA agents who follow the actions of the main characters and attempt (like the audience) to figure out what the hell is going on amidst all of the absurdity. It is in these brief scenes that the film comes across as the parody that I think it was meant to be in the first place.
He said: A shame, really. Great cast. But no amount of great acting could have saved this script. About an hour into this film I remember thinking to myself that if it wasn’t for Shawn sitting right next to me, I would have walked out of the theater. Considering the films that I’ve sat through in my lifetime, just the fact that such a thought crossed my mind is all that needs to be said.
Movies are a bit like people. Sometimes you just meet the wrong one at the right time, and this film was a bit like that for me. The beginning sucks, the middle's shaky at best, and the ending really sucked - yet, somehow, I still enjoyed it.
Ironically, it's a movie about reinventing yourself, as Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) shows us repeatedly with her penchant for plastic surgery, that probably needed a bit more reinvention of its own.
But it's the vignettes. The movie, taken as a whole, sucks. But there are scenes and characters that are worth the price of admission.
Everyone talked about the Brad Pitt (Chad Feldheimer) and George Clooney (Harry Pfarrer) roles in this movie, but, in my opinion, John Malkovich as Osborne Cox stole the show. If you took Malkovich out, the movie would have been over about 30 minutes in.
Joel Coen said that he and Ethan decided to do a spy movie because "we hadn't done one before," but it turns out to be more a Shakespearean comedy of errors and egos than a spy movie - or even spy spoof, really. (Besides the beginning and ending shots fade in/worldview shots, I mean, which even Spy Kids used. Come on, Brothers Coen. That was just sad!)
There were just too many stories going on that never fit together in the end. As Linda says, explaining why she just can't be happy with the way she is, "I've gone as far as I can go with this body." And when you leave the theatre, you feel the same way about this film.
She Said: Rent it at the video store - don't waste your money at the theatres.If you're a Coen Brothers fan, you'll find something to enjoy about the movie, but you'll still wonder why in the end.
After reading each other's reviews, The Eskimo and Shawn always discuss the reviews (and the film, too, of course). Listen to the Burn After Reading audio commentary here. (And find out which film The Eskimo picked to review next.)