A Strong Cast in a Laugh-Out-Loud Comedy by the Coen Brothers
Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins and Frances McDormand all play key roles in Burn After Reading (2008), a hilarious black comedy written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The tone is sardonic and cynical, the characters aren't likable, and there's no one to root for. Like most of the Coen brothers' movies, this one is genre-bending, but it's essentially social satire. As one character in it says to another, "I know very well what you represent. You represent the idiocy of today."
Burn After Reading is basically an ensemble piece, but the story centers on a fitness center employee named Linda Litzke (McDormand). Although middle-aged, she turns out to be a femme fatale. Her obsession with getting enough money for several cosmetic surgeries leads to two violent deaths.
The film's plot is intricate, and the Coens keep things moving at the breakneck pace of the old screwball comedies. The zany story gets underway with alcoholic CIA analyst Osborne Cox (Malkovich) losing his job. Cox then takes a stab at putting together a memoir, and a computer disc containing his efforts falls into the hands of Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer (Pitt), her coworker at Hardbodies. The fitness center workers mistake the memoirs for CIA secrets and try to sell them to the Russians. Part of the dark humor here is that nothing is at stake, yet people die.
George Clooney plays a US marshal named Harry Pfarrer. He loves his wife, but that doesn't stop him from being in an affair with Cox's wife (Swinton) and at the same time getting into a sexual relationship with Linda Litzke.
DVD Bonus Materials
The Burn After Reading DVD comes with 21 minutes of extras. These are mildly amusing.
In the jokey "Finding the Burn," the Coens admit the movie is difficult to summarize, but Joel says, "It's sort of about the Central Intelligence Agency and physical fitness, and what happens when these two worlds collide." But George Clooney has a more basic description: "It's mostly about sex and stuff like that."
"DC Insiders Run Amok" is a behind-the-scenes featurette in which the brothers point out that the parts were written for specific actors, and we learn a little about some of the key cast members. The costume designer states that her challenge was "to make two gorgeous men [Brad Pitt and George Clooney] look like suburban dorks." She also says Frances McDormand's hairdo was based on Linda Tripp. The production designer reveals that Brooklyn Heights stood in for Georgetown.
The brief "Welcome Back, George" is about how in Burn After Reading Clooney was doing his third movie for the Coens, the previous two having been Intolerable Cruelty (2003) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Clooney plays a doofus in each of the films, and he claims it could be called his "trilogy of idiots."
Below I have listed all the details for the Burn After Reading DVD.
Release Date: December 21, 2008
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Some Sexual Content, and Violence
Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1), Color
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Finding the Burn (5 1/2 min.)
DC Insiders Run Amuck (12 1/2 min.)
Welcome Back, George (3 min.)