Burn After Reading (15)

Written and directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
On general release from 17th October 2008

Reviewed by Anthony Swords

After the success of No Country For Old Men there has been much anticipation around the Coens' newest venture. Much of the expectation surrounding Burn After Reading has to do with the brothers' collaboration once again with George Clooney, as well as Brad Pitt joining the team in what has been trumpeted as their funniest film for many years.

Anyone expecting a wise cracking caper in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven will be sorely disappointed, as two viewers visibly were during my showing, for that is not the style of the Brothers Coen. However, what they have achieved is an expertly crafted study of buffoons and misguided fools in a tale of misunderstandings and general communication breakdown too complicated, or ridiculously simple, to explain in depth but revolves around the contents of a CIA disk that falls into the hands of gym employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Pitt).

Much of the feeling I have sensed from friends and family who have seen the film is one of slight disappointment or lack of fulfilment. Certainly this is partly a conscious effort from the filmmakers whose characters are so misguided and caught up in their own webs of deceit they have little chance of changing or of learning anything new, as reflected in the film's closure. However, I feel that the sensation of incompleteness has something to do with the marketing of the film which creates an expectation more akin to The Big Lebowski or Intolerable Cruelty rather than a more apt connection to Fargo and Barton Fink.

Nonetheless, Burn After Reading is a brilliant film that showcases the Coens’ great understanding for the details that create the weird, neurotic, loathsome and charming characters unique to their cinematic universe.

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