Burn After Reading
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich
Universal Home Entertainment
Release date: December 21, 2008
Burn After Reading opens with a view that seems to be from outer space, pinpointing the east coast of America — the land of opportunity. As it slowly descends closer, eventually delving into Virginia’s CIA Headquarters, we realize that this view might be from a bomb; a Coen brothers bomb that extracts moral values from its characters, twisting and turning them before they’re all led blindly to a state of misanthropy. Humans have no regard for other’s emotions. What means the most to one person means absolutely nothing to the next. An evil world indeed, but it is a Coen world where the real world pales in comparison as far as evil goes.
What Joel and Ethan Coen have done throughout their career are pit casual people against odds that are much more lethal and powerful than any human being could possibly be. This is their formula, and although they’ve been constantly changing venues, the ramifications that follow have always stayed true to their original formula. But there’s something new in Burn After Reading that one can’t quite put their finger on. The brothers make a movie containing 96 minutes of pure comedic delight and, strangely, the same amount of dread that no other film so far this year can touch. It’s something rare, something that can’t possibly be missed.
A disc containing top secret information is found in the locker room of a Washington D.C. gym. Employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt) discover that it belongs to recently fired CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). He’s already facing life’s other obstacles; he got fired from his job; his stability with his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is a little shaky. Linda is in dire need, or so she thinks, of four reconstructive surgeries to enhance her looks. Chad on the other hand is mind-boggled at the information on the disc and is willing to give it back and be a ‘Good Samari tan,’ until Linda suggests they blackmail Cox for money. The way Chad bobs his head to his iPod music and the way he adores his fitness job shows a man satisfied with his life. But slowly he becomes a soul being sucked of its innocence.
Cox, the only logical character in the movie, has a No Country for Old Men moment on his boat with his father: He finds the world to be littered with morons, and is at a loss for words trying to figure out how his disc ended up in the hands of two morons. In a more heartbreaking scene that personifies the ugliness of the characters, he tells his wife he wants to write a memoir…and she laughs in his face.
Linda still manages to get involved with a man she meets on an internet dating service. Turns out he’s a U.S. marshal working for the CIA who brags that he hasn’t used his gun in twenty years. If he has to he says that it will come naturally. His name is Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a lactose-intolerant sex maniac who’s having an affair with Osborne’s wife. Linda and Harry are both looking for love in the wrong places. Their scenes together achieve a true poignancy because Linda, unlike Harry, believes she’s far from perfect and for her to have a guy like him around only increases her self-esteem. She doesn’t find it necessary to have those surgeries done to her.
That secret disc eventually binds together a web of characters that are self-minded, corrupt, and oblivious to the world outside of their own realm. To go any further into detail would ruin a true cinematic miracle for viewers.
Every performance deserves recognition. From the minor characters played by J.K. Simmons and David Rasche, to the major characters played by Clooney, Pitt, McDormand, Swinton and Malkovich, each one of them submits their usual acting ways to pursue characters that are normally found in cartoons. By doing this they side-step out of their comfort zones and attempt to tread new grounds. In doing so they accomplish more than embodying just cartoon characters, but cartoon characters that have soul.
The camera work is focused on these characters in a distorted way — at times it seems to be set at their feet looking up, indicating their confusion. But it would be a mistake to think the Coen’s weren’t going for something deeper; each character represents a facet of American society, and how we tear one another apart if the result will benefit us.
Only the greats can get away with taunting themselves. The Coen brothers do just that here. They have the guts to create characters who admit that they have no clue about what is going on in their world. Burn After Reading is literally the complete package. The Coen’s entire arsenal is on display, and the result is a work that ranks alongside Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and No Country for Old Men.
While this transfer from Universal Studios doesn’t scream Blu-Ray, Burn After Reading does manage to present some worthy scenes of clarity, but more so it’s an ordinary blu-ray. Outside scenes from the film are more prone to the quality blu-ray usually associates itself with making the inside not reach its full potential. Colors aren’t really extravagant and set designs aren’t decadent, but that’s the Coens approach to a film like this. No Country succeed as a worth blu-ray because it captured the vastness and bleakness of the Mexican border and managed to dominate night scenes with superior high-definition. Burn After Reading is in an all together different world than that of No Country and makes the most with what they ha ve to work with. The film’s sound, though, presented in master audio 5.1, is piercing and commanding when heard. It overwhelms the viewer so much that viewers may feel the same discontent that the characters feel.
Another somewhat bare bone Blu-Ray disc that should present itself with much more quality stuff given who the film associates itself with.
Finding the Burn – HD (6 min): Joel and Ethan reward us with their presence. They talk how they made the film and where the concept originated. Also discussed are the relationships that the actors have with the brothers.
DC Insiders Run Amuck – HD (12 min): The Coens discuss who they wanted for each specific role. The cast inputs some remarks when their character is highlighted and talked about.
Welcome Back George – HD (3 min): Clooney discusses how the Coens see every character he plays for their movies as an idiot.
BD-Live: Feature where you can save a specific scene and share it with other user over the internet.
Movie: **** out of ****
High Definition: *** out of ****
Special Features: **1/2 out of ****