Burn After Reading (7/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 96 Minutes.
One thing that Joel and
Ethan Coen know is how to make movies about dumb people, “Fargo” (1996)
being the prime example. This movie is inundated with dumb people.
The film starts with
Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) being downgraded by the CIA, which ticks
him off. His wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton) is less than sympathetic. She
is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a pretty dumb
Federal Marshall, who is also married to someone else. Osborne starts to
write his memoirs, but somehow the CD containing what he’s written is
left at an exercise club where it’s found by a health club supervisor,
Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). She conspires with one of her
trainers, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), who is, to put it charitably,
IQ-challenged, to try to sell it to the Russians because she needs money
for some cosmetic surgery.
Every one of these
characters is extraordinarily dumb. The world of the Coens is
overflowing with characters like these who go blithely along, never
realizing how monumentally stupid they are.
This is actually a pretty
funny movie. Brad Pitt doesn’t appear as the hunk he usually is, but as
an airhead with mp3 buds constantly in his ears, bopping to the beat of
his unheard drummer. Frances McDormand throws all caution to the wind as
she has the single-minded pursuit of changing her body and reaches a
really stupid solution to her problem. Malkovich, who looks like the
twin brother of JK Simmons (who plays one of the two people who isn't
completely off his rocker, a CIA superior of no name who still goes
along with all the goofy solutions of his subordinates; the other
relatively normal person is Ted, the boss of Katie and Chad, effectively
played by Richard Jenkins), goes off half-cocked after he’s demoted.
Linda wants a man, which is
why she wants to carve up her body to look better. She never even
considers that Ted might be the guy for her, despite the adoring look he
gets whenever he's in her presence.
Katie Cox is the only
character I didn’t buy. She’s having a hot affair with Pfarrer, but it’s
difficult to understand why Pfarrer would be attracted to her. She’s
physically unattractive and has a horrible dominating personality. I
can’t imagine anyone wanting to spend any time with her anywhere, much
less in bed. But maybe that goes to the core of Pfarrer’s character
because he goes after Linda, too, and she’s no femme fatale.
All the characters are
bizarre and funny, but perhaps none more memorable than J. R. Horne, who
plays a divorce lawyer. Horne captures the smarmy hypocrisy of the
profession in his one minute onscreen. I know it’s not possible, but I’d
give him a nomination for best supporting actor, so unerring is his
All in all, this is an
enjoyable film that lets you come out of it no wiser, but probably in
better spirits than when you started.
September 10, 2008