Film review: Burn After Reading

2009-02-03 00:00

ANGELINA Jolie reportedly said that she was not attracted at all to Brad Pitt in his klutzy role in Burn After Reading. One can’t blame her. In fact, there’s no one in this Coen brothers offering who is even half-decent, save for Richard Jenkins (a Coen Brothers regular). Of course, he suffers a cruel end as a result of his good-guy persona. The rest are just morons. Which we can only assume is the point: the poster reads “Intelligence is Relative”.

The film begins with Osborne “Ozzie” Cox (John Malkovich), a CIA analyst who loses his job for no clear reason other than “a drinking problem”. Enraged, his revenge takes the form of his writing his memoirs, a notion which is sniggered at by his wife (Tilda Swinton).

Through a chance oops, a CD copy of Ozzie’s memoirs is left behind in the ladies’ change room of a local gym, where dumb employee and trainer Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and even dumber co-worker Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) see it as a means of getting rich. They offer to return it to Ozzie in return for a generous reward, but paranoid Ozzie misunderstands and flies off the handle, accusing them of blackmail.

The blackmail idea is exploited by Linda, who sees it as a way to pay for plastic surgery. Intertwined with this are all the affairs, centred around serial philanderer Harry Pfarrar (George Clooney).

The Coen brothers scripted Burn After Reading simultaneously with No Country For Old Men, alternating every other day for each script. But unlike No Country, one comes away from Burn feeling little to nothing for any of its characters, which were penned with the actual actors in mind.

The major themes swing between spy-thriller and middle-aged loneliness, which is perhaps why various aspects of the film seem so disjointed. For such innovative film-makers, one has to question the motive behind making this one, where the f-word features 60 times and the shock factor serves no meaningful story. All that can be ascertained is that it’s a 96-minute, self-deprecating exercise for Hollywood’s most sought-after stars, and make no mistake — there are some very funny moments. Pitt and Clooney are both hysterical, but there will be no accolades dished out, because there is explicitly no point to it at all.

*** Ryan Calder.

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