Rated R. Click here to view the trailer.
FYI, this review includes an inordinate number of hyphens (18).
I really don’t know what to say about Burn After Reading. It’s a pretty decent movie, for what it is. But what is it? It isn’t a thriller, it isn’t a dark comedy and it isn’t an action movie, although it does contain bits and pieces of those three genres. All I can really say for sure is that it isn’t bad.
The Coen brothers’ latest offering is a convoluted D.C. tale of… convolution I guess. Osborne Cox (the ever-so-interesting-looking John Malkovich) is a down and out CIA agent who decides he can do better for himself if he pens his memoir. His wife, Katie (the ever-so-striking Tilda Swinton), is cheating on him wife with the ever-so-smug George Clooney’s Harry.
Meanwhile, back a the ranch, excuse me, local gym, Linda (the ever-so-quirky Frances McDormand) is pining for plastic surgery. She and Chad (the ever-so-adoptive Brad Pitt) hit upon a get-rich-quick scheme that involves their misinterpretation of Osborne’s lost-and-found memoir. Everyone’s story is tangled together at least two or three different ways, but it isn’t too difficult to keep it straight.
The actors are all stellar and they’re each marvelous in their individual roles, but as a whole the movie just feels off. It isn’t suspenseful enough to be a thriller, although twists and turns abound. It isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, although it certainly bears that Coen dark comedy edge. It isn’t bombastic enough to be an action movie, although several people do get shot and at least one person gets attacked with a hatchet. I would have loved to have seen the Coens to commit to genre (preferably dark comedy) and add a few more laughs. They could have great expanded the ever-so-fun J.K Simmon’s role as the clueless head of the CIA.
Burn after Reading is a sharp movie and you certainly won’t fall asleep during it, but wow it could have been ever-so-much better.