STUDIO: Universal Studios
MSRP: $16.99
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

Finding the Burn
D.C. Insiders Run Amuck
Welcome Back George


The Pitch

The movie that has the Coens out-Coening themselves.

The Humans

George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, David Rasche, J.K. Simmons, Elizabeth Marvel.

The Nutshell

Taking the Beltway crowd and turning them on their asses, Burn After Reading follows several interconnected stories about the various losers and miserable a-holes in the Washington area who all get caught up one way or another in an ill-conceived plot by two health club employees (Pitt, McDormand) to blackmail a former CIA analyst when they get hold of a disc with some of his “secret shit.”

Looking in the mirror, it was obvious to Linda that the first thing she was going to have to do something about were those Pudzianowski mitts…

The Lowdown

It’s always a tough act to follow up a Best Picture performance with one’s next film, and not everyone has always been up to the challenge.  Thankfully, the Coens don’t fall into that category and
Burn After Reading is a true return to form for them, mixing deadpan screwball comedy that’s tinged more than just a little with the dour outlook on society left over from No Country For Old MenBurn isn’t concerned with developing a deep message beyond the fact that the world, in this case Washington, D.C., is filled with miscreants and reprobates of one form or another.  Furthermore, said wretches are all too frequently victims of their own malfeasance…or someone else’s.  The film is an exercise in the absurd, carried out by idiots doing and saying idiotic things, often in an attempt to extricate themselves from predicaments of their own idiotic devices.

“I don’t know, I’d probably fuck that face…”

There is much ado about nothing in Burn that, at the root cause, is incited by a blackmail plot by two health club employees.  However, the film is in no hurry to disclose that fact.  We’re given time to become acquainted with all of the players, most of whom are in miserable situations that they’d like to change.  John Malkovich is Osbourne Cox (a name you’ll here quite often from one of the other characters), a CIA analyst who has just incredulously quit his job rather than accept a demotion due to what is described by his employers as a drinking problem.  Denying this allegation – frequently over a drink – Osbourne looks to use this opportunity to write a memoir about his life, a fact that is summarily ridiculed by his wife, Katie (Swinton).

Clooney’s reaction to finding Schumacher in his closet wearing a Robin nipplesuit and ball gag was more than understandable…

Katie is a humorless shrew who is looking to put the axe on her marriage, mainly because she’s boning Treasury Guy Harry Pfarrer (Clooney).  After receiving sage advice from her lawyer about proceeding with her divorce plans, she takes steps to get a handle on all of their finances, including copying them from their computer to a disc.  Meanwhile, Harry spends most of his time boasting that he’s never discharged his weapon in 20 years of government service,  philandering around on his wife, Sandy (Marvel), and building something mysterious in his basement.  To say what, however, would ruin a good character moment in the film, but it involves steel, latex and the motion of the ocean.  He also starts to notice that someone in a black car is following him all over town, which makes him paranoid. 

“Hi, Jen?  Yeah, it’s me.  Um, I think I may be in over my head a tad bit with this whole Angelina/Maddox/Zahara/Pax/Shiloh/Vivienne/Knox thing…”

On the other end of things, Frances McDormand is Linda Litzke, an aging trainer at Hardbodies, a health club who is dead set on getting a battery of plastic surgeries in order to maintain her career and hopefully find the man that’s painfully missing from her mundane existence.  Of course she’s not happy when she finds out that her health care doesn’t cover the procedures.  She’s a lonely soul who engages in internet dating, which leaves her feeling even more hollow at the end of the encounters than when she began. 

“Goddamn, this tastes just like Krista Allen’s snatch…”

Her co-worker is Chad Feldheimer (Pitt), a dimwitted yet eternally upbeat trainer.  Chad checks a disc that another co-worker, Manolo, discovers in a locker, that was left there through a series of mishandlings.  He deduces that it’s the top secret material from a high-level government agent, probably CIA.  With her desire to get a reward to finance her surgeries, and Chad’s desire to be a good samaritan (for a price), they decide to arrange a meeting to return disc to the government agent: Osbourne.  Naturally, Osbourne, who is already descending further and further into his own alcohol-fueled misgivings about life, isn’t thrilled with this arrangement and the nasty encounter with Chad and Linda leads them to go to the Russians in order to broker a separate deal.  This in turn draws the attention of the CIA, including Osbourne’s former boss (Rasche). 

Malkovich?  Malkovich?  Malkovich…M-A-L-K-O-V-I-C-H.  mAlKoViCh…

On a side note, Linda meets Harry through the internet dating and starts an affair with him, buying his story that he and his wife are separated.  From there, it’s a well-paced tour through the various machinations of the characters that generally produce negative results for them all, and in more than one case, a very negative one.  The chorus to all of the spinning plates are Rasche and J.K. Simmons as the CIA suits who keep us apprised of key developments in hilarious deadpan briefings.

Burn After Reading, the Coens have crafted another great ensemble piece that revels in its vitriol and negativity, painting few if any sympathetic characters and skewering an institution or two, not the least of which are marriage and the intelligence community.  In a film populated with Oscar winners and nominees, expectations are high and handily met.  Clooney is riding high on the train that he’s been on with the Coens before, and Coen newcomer Pitt fits right in with their acerbic and skewed view of the universe.  McDormand and Malkovich delight as always and Swinton gives a performance that could douse Kilauea.  There’s no post-Oscar letdown here as the Coens are as on top of their game with a film that’s in the tradition of their distinctive style.

Durden after hours and a dozen Jager shots was not a pretty sight.

The Package

The look and sound of the film are fine, in Anamorphic 1.85:1 and English Dolby 5.1 respectively.  There’s also available French 5.1 with Spanish, English and French subtitles.  As for the special features, they’re a little sparse, with only three standard production featurettes: Finding the Burn, D.C. Insiders Run Amuck and Welcome Back George, running six, twelve and three minutes respectively.  The primary
cast, the Coens and various crew provide talking head pieces about working with each other and designing the movie.  You’re going to be buying this disc for the film, and not for the features, but if you’re a Coen fan, you’ll want to add it to the collection for sure.

8.0 out of 10