Starring: Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, George Clooney
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Running Time: 96 mins
Burn After Reading is an American film about a pair of daft gym employees who, after getting their hands on some top secret CIA information, decide to sell it off for their own benefit.
I really enjoyed this film. Filled with the directors’ typical darkly comic vibes, Burn After Reading also proves one of the Coen Brothers’ outright funniest films, with a lot more light-hearted humour going hand in hand with a somewhat sillier story, and somewhat sillier characters. Of course, that means it’s not on the intensely riveting level of the likes of Fargo, but it is a really entertaining watch throughout, and still proves interesting thanks to an enjoyable and engaging story too.
Above all, however, the performances are what I loved most about Burn After Reading. The film’s characters are all totally exaggerated personalities, with the dur-brained gym duo played by Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, the strange government official by George Clooney, the cold and heartless wife by Tilda Swinton, and the frustrated CIA employee by John Malkovich. However, all of the actors do a great job at keeping the fun factor in their characters’ over-the-top personalities without straying into overacting, something that makes them all hugely entertaining to watch from beginning to end.
Of them all, however, it’s Pitt and McDormand that impress the most. They both play idiotic and selfish characters who get way out of their depth in trying to blackmail no less than the CIA, but their performances are hugely entertianing throughout, with Frances McDormand proving as dynamic and eye-catching as always on screen, even if she’s not playing the world’s most likable or intelligent person, while Brad Pitt is absolutely fantastic as a totally moronic jock, with even his braindead facial expressions proving hilarious at every point.
But of course, these great performances would be nowhere without a good script, and I’m glad to say that Burn After Reading gets the often difficult balance between pure comedy and darker laughs spot on. On the whole, this film is a fair bit lighter and easier-going than most of the Coen Brothers’ movies, and the way the characters in particular are written, effectively playing out like comic stereotypes throughout, makes it a film that you can at times just sit back and laugh at.
However, the script also manages to keep you interested by laying out a bizarre and hilariously complex series of events that take the story into some darker places. Again, it’s not a film that will disturb you in the way that Fargo sometimes did, but what it does do well is abruptly change the atmosphere from wacky comedy to something really dark, and with that shock value comes a really awkward but genuinely hilarious few moments, which was great to see.
And of course, watching the film’s series of intertwined events all play out, despite how incredibly improbable each of them are, is great fun too. The Coen Brothers do a great job at keeping all of the madness together pretty well, all the while retaining the fun-loving, ridiculous vibes, something that makes Burn After Reading both a hilarious and still genuinely engaging film.
Overall, I had a great time with Burn After Reading. It’s a hilarious comedy, and filled to the brim with wacky and over-the-top characters and performances, not to mention a crazy story with all manner of ridiculous twists and turns. However, it’s still got some depth and darkness to it in a way only the Coen Brothers can pull off, and with that, it feels a little more impressive than if it were just a simple, light-hearted comedy, making for a really entertaining but also consistently engaging watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.8.