Divorces, Gyms and the CIA
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand
What’s it About? Osborne Cox (Malkovich) walks out on his job just as his wife is planning to divorce him. In a bid to make sense of his unemployment Cox begins to write his memoirs…which then end up in the hands of Chad (Pitt) and Linda (McDormand), two gym employees who believe they have stumbled upon top secret government files.
I’m not too sure how good the Coens are at comedy: Ever since The Big Lebowski proved a hit, the Coens’ comedies seem to have gone steadily downhill. ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’ received mixed reactions, then there was the horror that was ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ followed by the flop that was ‘The Ladykillers’ and now we have ‘Burn After Reading’, which, although a par above the latter two is still only an average Coens’ movie. There are some truly comic moments: you cannot help but laugh at Pitt’s portrayal of a dumb gym instructor, even if he does overplay the part at times. Chad is a good match for Frances McDormand’s Linda, with both characters completely wrapped up in their own world of fake conspiracies and imagined intrigue. Unfortunately, the other characters do not impress in the same way. It’s not the fault of the actors who are all more than comfortable in their roles, but it’s just that the characters themselves feel underwritten; John Malkovich is particularly wasted once the opening scenes are left behind. With so many characters and too little time, ‘Burn After Reading’ feels like a sketch show and most of the time I was waiting for it to revert back to Linda/Chad and Linda’s admirer Ted (Richard Jenkins). Overall ‘Burn after Reading’ feels rushed and while some scenarios do initially seem daring, in retrospect you begin to wonder if such plot twists and turns were simply used to hurry the story along. It’s as if the Coens wrote this in a moment of light relief after the heavy going No Country for Old Men and the result is a couple of amusing scenes strung together by an unlikely plot.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? Yes, if only because there’s so little to choose from at the moment.