Burn After Reading

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burn after reading
George Clooney and Francis McDormand are enjoying a movie as much as you’ll enjoy this.

I’m so glad this movie came out and helped me forget about the Coen’s most overrated movie ever, last years No Country For Old Men. This latest comedy goes into my Top 5 favorite films of theirs.

Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is an alcoholic CIA analyst who is given a demotion. He’s decides he’d rather quit before taking that job, but not before making fun of the Mormon in the room. Not only is that scene a realistic, but the fight that causes he and his wife; perhaps the most realistic fight from a married couple you’ll ever see on screen. His wife (Tilda Swinton) is surprised to see him home from work early. As he starts to tell her he has “some news,” regarding the job he quit, she’s more concerned with whether or not he picked up the cheese for the party later in the evening. Before he can even explain the situation, she’s storming out the door saying “Never mind, I’ll do it myself!”

Swinton is having an affair with an employee of the Treasury (George Clooney), and she is planning to leave her husband for him. He’s a bit on the paranoid side. He’s also rather dumb. He’s not quite dumb as Brad Pitt, who plays a trainer at a fitness club, who stumbles across a disc belonging to Malkovich. It’s really nothing, just some bank accountant information the wife wants for her divorce. Pitt sees all the numbers he can’t figure out and thinks it’s “secret spy s**t.” That might mean a big reward for him and Frances McDormand for returning it. She’s in what she thinks is a financial bind because…she can’t afford the cosmetic surgery she wants. Looks are important to her, especially with the men she’s choosing from on a dating site.

Her sad-sack boss at the gym is played brilliantly by Richard Jenkins. He’s interested in her, but she’s a little clueless picking up on that, and probably wouldn’t be interested in him anyway. That doesn’t mean he won’t reluctantly help her when she needs it.

There’s a phone call Pitt makes to Malkovich that might be the funniest scene in a movie all year. The way he tries to blackmail him, after realizing he won’t be getting a reward, is hysterical. Pitt and McDormand also stop by the Russian embassy, hoping they might give them cash for this disc. They have no clue that all of these actions are against the law.

One of the many things that makes this such a great comedy is that you have characters that are believable. Clooney almost borders on being unrealistic, because he’s so over the top with all his craziness and stupidity. For example, he thinks he’s allergic to everything he eats. Yet I spent a few minutes thinking about that, and I know two people very similar.

J.K. Simmons plays the head of the CIA, and when some of this stuff starts happening, he’s being briefed on the situation. Again, what makes it great is that he’s not a dope. He’s confused by what he’s being told, but handles it all like a pro. In other movies, that character would be shouting at everyone, firing people, slamming the phone down, etc. Even the person that dryly informs him of it all has the perfect voice. These are such dry comedic moments, it’s brilliant.

There’s a great score by Carter Burwell that really adds to the seriousness of what happens later in the film.

Hours after the movie, I thought about how the womanizing George Clooney was always commenting after getting dressed, about either going for a run or how nice the hardwood floors were. It’s such a funny thing to write for that character. One time he even names the type of wood as he stomps his foot on the floor.

I also thought about the fake movie they had called Coming Up Daisy. McDormand went on a few dates there, and the cheesy film starred Dermot Mulroney. I’d love to hear how a scene like that is written and cast. I like the idea that his agent would call him and say “The Coen brothers want you in their next movie.” The excitement would wane as it’s explained to him “You’re going to play yourself, in the horribly unfunny movie within the movie.”

I plan on seeing this another few times at the theatres. It’s not going to be for everybody, and some might be shocked by the violence that catches you off guard. It wouldn’t be a Coen movie any other way.

Just make sure you pay attention to everything going on. There are so many brilliant moments you might miss. I was just thinking about how the doctor in the beginning tries selling McDormand on surgeries she didn’t need. Subtle things like that are so interesting and well done in their movies.

And wait until you see the device Clooney builds. For a guy that loves a good run after a session in the sack, you’re going to be thinking about the treadmill from hell, with the perfect hardwood floors. It’ll get the biggest laugh in the theatres.

Any critic that doesn’t like this movie belongs to a “league of morons!”

This gets 5 stars.

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