>When it comes to comedy, Hollywood has done it all. From the wildest Eddie Murphy to the wackiest Jim Carrey and all the Adam Sandlers, Ben Stillers and Mike Meyers in between, the masters of movie making have not left a stone unturned. But when you think of American comedies, for some reason, only tities and fart jokes come to mind, with seriously rare exceptions like ‘Juno’. Although there hasn’t been much favor among the movie buffs for a British style dry wit in American movies, every now and then some creators try to throw such films to the audience hoping to see if it catches on. Usually these movies are low budget, feature not so prominent figures and tend to play on the safer side by employing stupid characters with even stupid-er actions. ‘Burn After Reading’ is one of them, but only too different.
Story: Very Simple. A small misunderstanding gets blown out of proportions when people of different priorities get involved leading to the obvious chaos, which gets solved, in the end, by the chaos itself.
Osborne Cox (John Malkovic) is a CIA analyst, who gets fired because of office politics and becomes paranoid, more than usual that is. He decides to write a book about his life in the Agency (which he so poshly refers as ‘a memoir’) which, stored in a CD, in a bizarre flow of events falls into the hands two completely mundane gymnasium staff, Chad Feldhiemer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand). They think the CD contains sensitive information (which Chad calls ‘the shit’) associated with ‘some guy’ with some ‘high profile agency’. Linda, who is short on cash for her reconstructive cosmetic surgery (the complete works of her body) that she thinks is her only chance of finding her soul mate, sees this as the God given opportunity. Meanwhile Osborne gets more insane by the day as he learns of his wife Katie Cox’s (Tilda Swinton) sexual relationship with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who is an womanizer for his part, and secretly divorce Osborne. To make things a bit more convoluted, Harry, who dates women for sex, hooks up with Linda. While Linda and Chad try to get some money out of Osborne’s ‘shit’, Osborne tries to bring his personal life to order as the CIA watches over the proceedings and for fun sake the Russians are dragged in as well. What ensues is an hour and half comedy-drama that is smart and funny for the same reasons. And the movie ends, strangely, as if nothing happened.
Now, given this kind of first class cast, you expect the performance to be outstanding. But what you don’t expect is the kind of characters they have taken up and brought to life with such panache. While Brad Pitt is the over excited childish guy who says ‘Appearances can be Deceiving’ in the funniest possible way, George Clooney effectively becomes the guy who just after having sex goes for a long jog and builds a cradling women’s pleasure machine in his basement. As always Jon Malkovich performs as only he can, ever narcissistic ever swearing. All the other actors fit snugly into their characters and you hardly get distracted.
To me the highlight of the film is Chad, I mean Brad Pitt. With his careless and adventures character he makes the funny part of the film standout. As Linda drags him into tricky situations he complains and then curiously follows only to be get hit in the face. The whole scenario is as confusing to him as it is exciting. Brad simply owns the movie until he gets shot; oh yeah, he dies just before the movie ends.
The movie is the handy work of Joel and Ethan Coen (guys who made the 2008 Academy Award winner ‘ No Country For Old Men’) and it clearly shows. The film has the same arid tone and the characters are already into their stride when the movie starts that there is no beginning in the story as such, only the event that triggers the chain reaction. As soon they talk, you know their nature and then you kind of expect them to react in the way they do. And with every miss-step its dark comedy jumps out of the screen. The movie is set in what looks like cold weather streets of Washington DC and the music perfectly brings out the complexity of the situation.
The punch dialogue of the movie is the final sentence uttered when the CIA director played by J.K Simmons says that they should ‘learn to not repeat what they did in this case, although they are not sure what they did in this case’.
Mostly, you laugh in this movie because its funny, but more importantly it is intelligent.
And by the way, if you don’t find this movie funny, don’t beat up yourself. Like I said in the first few lines, this is not for everyone.