21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
Politics & Living
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories

The International Writers Magazine:Film

Burn After Reading
Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
Written by Ethan and Joel Coen
Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt

Samuel James Richards

This review could be summed up in seven words.
The Coen Brothers have done it again.

But that would not do justice to the, dare I say, masterpiece, that is Burn After Reading. Not content to rest on their laurels, the talented sibling duo responsible for classics such as Fargo (1996), O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), and more recently No Country For Old Men (2007), have made yet another superb film, one that definitely deserves more than seven words.

The basic premise of Burn After Reading is that within everyone, beneath our ordered and controlled exteriors, there lies a buffoon, waiting for an opportunity to take over. All the characters in this film are fools in their own right, from George Clooney’s childish womaniser to Frances McDormand’s surgery-obsessed gym employee. The coincidental chaos begins with a CIA agent’s memoirs being found by two opportunistic yet completely inept blackmailers, the ensuing events watched by the government with curious confusion.

It is hard to imagine that the cast of the Coen Brothers’ latest film didn’t have a good time while shooting it. The script must have been like an adventure playground to a talented actor, with all those involved giving immense performances. John Malkovich is tragically frustrated as Osbourne Cox, a government analyst with no social skills and aggressive tendencies boiling just beneath the surface. Tilda Swinton plays his icy wife, concerned only with the superficial and disinterested in her husband’s problems.

Although it would be impossible to claim that one of the star-studded cast outshines the rest, Brad Pitt’s idiotic personal trainer, Chad Feldheimer, is particularly amusing to watch. His laughable hairstyle, juvenile enthusiasm and embarrassing foolishness combine together with comic brilliance. The scene in which he attempts to collect the ransom from Malkovitch is exceptionally funny, as Chad tries to appear mysterious by constantly repeating "Osboure Cox" in a raspy voice, leading to Malkovitch punching him in the face.

The violence displayed in the film, although graphic and vicious, is darkly hilarious. People are shot, hacked to pieces, almost run down by cars, and yet this all adds to the comedy. The image of John Malkovitch in his underwear, chasing a man whilst manically wielding an axe is oddly amusing, especially as the film then cuts to a scene where a CIA agent relates the event in complete deadpan to his superior.

It is not just the actors that make Burn After Reading a visual treat. All the pieces of the puzzle are perfectly chosen and placed. The film’s score and its direction are mockingly reminiscent of spy thrillers such as the Bourne films, striking a great contrast with the characters’ bumbling actions. The script is flawlessly honed, subtle in places and equally outrageous in others.

I was very impressed with the versatility that the Coen brothers displayed in making this film almost simultaneously with their highly acclaimed No Country For Old Men. Whereas No Country ... is dark, disturbing and quite difficult to get your head around at points, Burn After Reading is amusing and easily comprehendible. However, that is not to say that it is clear-cut and simply resolved, a factor that will turn some viewers off the movie. It is understandable for some to find this film pointless and over-the-top, but then the Coen Brothers probably weren’t aiming to make everyone happy.

I don’t normally find comedy a genre that I really get on with, as it seems a lot of Hollywood’s fast-food trashy films fall into this category. But instead of being another "ethnic-mismatch crime-caper 5" Burn After Reading is an interesting and entertaining film, that will produce more than just a mild grin. In this time of economic turmoil and strife, as banks collapse and share-prices take a nose-dive, make a smart investment and purchase a ticket for this film. There’s a small chance you won’t like it, but the Coen Brothers deserve your money regardless.

© samuel james richards Oct 31st 2008
<shl60123 at

Sam is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

More reviews


© Hackwriters 1999-2008 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.