By Justin Meltzer
When the Coen bothers direct a movie, they direct the shit out of it. The same is true of Burn After Reading, their latest take on the spy/sex/gym/idiot genre. The movie begins with Ozzy Cox (John Malkovich), an ex-CIA agent scorned. His wife (played by recent Oscar winner Tilda Swinton) is sleeping with a married womanizing sex addict (played by Mr. I’m-full-of-myself, George Clooney). He is also sleeping with a gym worker who wants money for surgery (Frances McDormand) and devises a plan with her gym trainer co-worker (the brilliant moron, Brad Pitt) to blackmail Ozzy Cox to get money in exchange for a lost CD that actually contains mere financial records that Ozzy’s wife was using for her secret divorce proceedings. If you think that was hard to follow, you should see the movie.
What makes the movie really great is the fact that it is hysterically funny, but done so dark and dry that you don’t know whether to laugh out loud or assume the fetal position and defecate where you sit. I personally chose the former but I felt like a weirdo while the jokes flew over the heads of the rest of the audience and I was laughing aloud like there was no tomorrow. I would love to say that Brad Pitt’s “Chad” was the show stealer, but every character really brought something different and amazing to the table.
My personal favorite, however, was Clooney. While normally obnoxious and annoying in most of his other films (i.e. Michael Clayton, Syrianna), whenever he is in a Coen brothers picture he makes me want to bear his illegitimate children for what a talented actor he is. His scenes were not only perverted and inappropriate, but also hysterically funny. Clearly he was the biggest cock in the movie (figuratively speaking of course) despite Malkovich’s character’s last name. Knowing the Coen’s knack for phallic symbols it was clearly evident that Clooney’s character was the alpha male, especially considering the “special gift” he made for his wife.
This film was a spectacular romp through the minds of very interesting character profiles. The movie was all about the un-intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency. While the Coen’s didn’t purposely write this script as a politically motivated view of this nation’s spy agencies, it could be looked upon as such. In the end, every character thought everyone else was against them. One of the best parts was when George Clooney met with Frances McDormand’s character, Linda Litzke, in the park. Clooney gets spooked when he learns some new information concerning Linda’s missing friend Chad, and Cloony looks around and sees the guy tailing him, some other guy taking pictures, and then the sounds of a helicopter overhead. He freaks out and shouts “Who are you!?” to which she just looks surprised and says, “I’m just Linda Litzke.”
Burn After Reading is a work of comic art. Everything from the score, which sounds crucial yet meaningless, to the cinematography — done by the same guy who did Children of Men, to the brilliant dialogue (“Ha ha, you think that’s a Schwinn?”) made this film another notch on the already prestigious belt of the Coen brothers. Burn will go up there with Lebowski and O’Brother as one of the best comedies they have ever done. In order to fully grasp its complexities, I recommend seeing this movie at least twice, as there is a lot to take in. And always make sure you know about the security of your shit.