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Published on September 15th, 2008 | by Erich Becker


Review: Burn After Reading

To borrow a line from a very popular book, the Coen brother’s Burn After Reading is a mostly harmless affair with a brisk pace, sometimes lightening dialog, this dark comedy begins, does its thing, and leaves you to go on your merry way. The film, the first since the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men (a film not held in high regards among our staff), takes a collection of A-list celebrities, casts them in a movie with such obscene stupidity you can’t help but to laugh for 90 minutes before J.K. Simmons steals the entire film as he closes the book on the entire piece.

As with most Coen films Reading focuses on a collection of narratives that culminate together, with characters drifting between each of the stories bridging the gaps. Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is fired from his CIA job because of a drinking problem, his wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is secretly having an affair with married Treasury drone Harry Pfarrer (George Cloony) who is also dating gym-worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). Linda works with Chad (Brad Pitt) and the two of them come into possession of Cox’s financial statements which they believe are intelligence documents. The logical thing to do with any sensitive document is to blackmail the author, in this case the foul-mouthed Cox, or sell it to the Russians, both of which are attempted.

The plot whirls you around for about an hour and a half, cracking a few jokes along the way, makes you feel dirty for laughing, but producing some decent belly laughs and more than a few chuckles. The writing is done is such a way that not every joke known to man is thrown up against a wall to see which ones stick, each joke is carefully crafted and seem to hit their mark more often than not.

Being a Coen brothers film there is your fair share of outrageous, gratuitous violence including a point blank shot to the face and a hatchet to another supporting character’s head. Its so over the top and unexpected that you’re forced to just laugh and stare in disbelief for a second after it happens, reassuring yourself that you just witnessed what you think you did.

Bit-players David Rasche and J.K. Simmons steal the film however with their dry retelling of the climatic events as it closes and Simmons bewildered CIA director makes the film as funny as it aspires to be. This isn’t to say that the film is necessarily flat or insanely funny the apt principle of mostly harmless really sums it up, whether you watch it or not, enjoy it or not, laugh or not, its over in 90 minutes. For non-fans of the Coen brothers its out of sight, out of mind, for true fans it takes its rightful place in the land of Big Lebowski’s and snow covered Minnesota.

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About the Author

Thirty-something with a love of everything we cover here, and a few things we don't. Erich has run Entertainmentopia since the site's inception in 1999, countless redesigns, a few crashes, and a lot of media later, here you have it!

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