“Burn After Reading” sports a powerhouse cast including George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich. The film takes advantage of intricate and compelling visual compositions, laugh out loud moments, and strong performances by all of the aforementioned actors, especially Malkovich and Pitt. It is the Coen brothers’ latest edition to their corrupt and comical movies, and well, they’ve done it again. That of course depends on what “it” is referring to.
“Burn After Reading” is nothing new. All of the Coen brothers’ films contain the same basic elements of plot; neurotic or eccentric characters are driven to pursue a fortune that is out of reach, and while the degree of gore fluctuates depending on the seriousness of each movie, the impractical struggle usually results in demented and violent consequences, maintaining a surreal level of delusion throughout the whole ordeal.
This rendition of the story, which starts off kind of slow, involves an awkward and painfully insecure middle-aged fitness instructor (McDormand). She is willing to go to scary lengths to afford cosmetic surgery and refurbish life’s gusto. When she and a coworker (Pitt), stumble across classified intelligence documents, they see it as a leverage tool to make some quick cash, blackmailing the agent (Malkovich) to whom they belong. The resulting mess, involving an oversexed federal marshal (Clooney) is wry, witty, and a little depleted.
Though on the lighter side of their films (somewhere between “Fargo” and “Raising Arizona”), “Burn After Reading” fails to produce any air of originality or depth. The Coens have so far been able to utilize the same plot formula with notable success, winning much praise for movies such as “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, all movies worth seeing. However, it’s possible that their ability to throw provocative and novel spin on a once powerful gimmick has reached a breaking point.
Unlike some of their more intriguing films like “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” or “Miller’s Crossing,” this one leaves you with nothing to chew on and gravely unsatisfied, scarcely tapping into an emotion or reflection. “Burn After Reading” is worth a viewing for a quick laugh, but unfortunately, cannot stand on the podium with the other, notable members of the Coen collection.