By Max Kath
I walked into the Cinebar movie theater in Asheville with the utmost curiosity, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure what “Burn After Reading” would be about. I had seen the commercials and read some things about it on the internet but the plot was still an elusive thought that no one was able to pin down. I’m happy to say that I am another one of those people and I am also happy to say that the Coen Brothers have made another hilarious comedy that they are so well known for.
The basic story of the movie is an ex-CIA agent, played by the wonderful John Malkovich, records thoughts for a memoir onto a disc and that disc somehow gets found by a couple of personal trainers played by the invaluable Frances McDormand and hilarious Brad Pitt at a gym. These two characters then try to blackmail Malkovich into giving them a large sum of money because they think the disc contains national security secrets. In the mean time Malkovich’s wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is having an affair with a friend of hers played by George Clooney. Needless to say some bad things happen, most of which is stemming from the misunderstanding of what is on the disc. Trying to explain the rest of the plot would be pointless because, frankly, it can’t be done. That is not an insult to the film, however, it is in fact a complement because by not being sure what exactly happened in this movie, the Coen Brothers have assured that people will want to go back and try to see if they can figure it out a second time. The real reason to go see this movie is for the performances. Brad Pitt and John Malkovich deserve to win Oscars for their roles. Pitt as a dumber-than-a-brick personal trainer and Malkovich as a foul-mouthed ex-CIA agent that just wants to write his memoir (or as he pronounces it, “memwah”) and get all of his personal possessions out of the house his wife has kicked him out of. McDormand is charming as usual and Clooney proves once again why he is one of the most underrated actors in the business today. The only real disappointment here is Tilda Swinton, who gives a good performance but not a great one, at least not compared to the other actors in this movie. She isn’t really given enough screen time to develop her character. However she does have a really funny scene where we get to see what a terrible pediatrician she is.
The cinematography is some of the best of the year, and that is because the film was shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, the man who is responsible for shooting most of the movies directed by Spanish filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón and does a wonderful job filling in for the Coen Brothers regular cinematographer Roger Deakins. What Lubezki is able to do with natural light is something to behold, because the scenes are lit so perfectly and the shadows that are cast are so darkly and beautifully you can’t help but just sit back and be taken in by it all. The editing by Roderick Jaynes, AKA the Coen Brothers, is top-notch and tight.
The script and direction are, of course, wonderful. The Coen Brothers really know how to pack a large amount of laughs into every scene they write. However, there are a few issues I had with the overall laugh factor. I would have liked the movie to be less heavy-handed in some areas because I don’t think it was needed, but when there is a movie this fun it’s hard to stay mad for too long.
This movie is a wonderful diversion from most of the drivel that came out this summer and, with that in mind, people should go see it if they just want to laugh and have a good time at the movies. Just don’t ask too many questions about what the plot might be.