By Tyler Gilliam
If you saw the previews for Burn After Reading, you probably thought, “Wow, that looks kind of funny. I wonder what it’s about.” Let me tell you, I saw it and I left the theatre thinking, “Wow, that was kind of funny. What was it about?” The Cohen brothers’ (The Big Lebowski, Fargo) latest project came out of the opposite end of the spectrum from their 2007 Academy Award-winning film No Country For Old Men.
Burn After Reading is described as a spy comedy of sorts. And even though it showcased some spy stuff and was funny on occasion, it’s still a bit of a stretch to describe it as a “spy comedy.” Don’t think Austin Powers. Think awkward, overdeveloped and void of plot.
Its central character, or at least the only character tying together the loose remnants of what should have been a plot, is ex-CIA analyst Osbourne Cox, played by John Malkovich (Con Air, Being John Malkovich). At the start of the film, Cox leaves his job at the CIA after being demoted because of his drinking problem. Unbeknownst to Cox, he’s also about to go through a divorce and a lot more hassle.
Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, The Chronicles of Narnia) plays Cox’s wife, Katie. She is involved with another man and is filing for divorce. At the urging of her attorney, she copies Osbourne’s personal files off the computer and brings a copy to the lawyer. This is where the situation gets sticky.
The attorney’s secretary loses the disk at the local gym. Gym employees Linda Litzkeand and Chad Feldheimerfind find the disk. Chad, played by Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Oceans Trilogy), believes the disk contains some government secrets. Linda, played by Frances McDormand (North Country, Almost Famous), is trying to rake in money for cosmetic surgery and sees their find as an opportunity to make some cash. Let the blackmail commence.
Meanwhile, Linda has been using an online dating service. She comes across Harry Pfarrer, played by George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Oceans Trilogy). She and Harry hit it off, but Linda is not Harry’s only woman.
He’s also the man Katie Cox is having an affair with, and he’s married to yet another woman. It is George Clooney, after all.
The characters are all connected in the tangled web woven by the Cohen brothers, but the web, as you might have guessed, is quite hard to sort through. The main characters are rarely in the same scene, and at times the film is completely devoid of any of its award-winning cast.
The actors were without exception great. Everyone had funny, interesting parts. I usually gripe about a lack of character development in movies, but this one spent three fourths of the running time developing the characters before we really saw any action.
It was just too much sitting and waiting. It was frustrating, really. I feel like you could read this article and walk into the theatre over an hour into the movie and you’d get just as much out of it.
To be quite honest, Burn After Reading was OK, but I was really disappointed. It just didn’t live up to the hype.