Your eyes won’t burn after seeing Burn After Reading

After the Coen brothers’ overwhelming success with the Academy, everyone wanted to know how they were planning to follow up their well-received Cormac McCarthy interpretation. With their offbeat reputation and their unusually assorted catalog, it was hard to say where they might venture to next. In Burn After Reading, Joel and Ethan turn their attention to a ridiculous comedy filled with federal agents, middle-aged insecurities, and numerous sexcapades. True Coen brother fans will enjoy this movie, but people who assumed that No Country for Old Men would yield more projects of its sort will no doubt be disappointed. The film starts out with a CIA analyst, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), getting demoted for his drinking problem (one that he denies having like any self respecting man of his generation). As the plot progresses, you meet Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a married womanizer who reeks of insecurity. Eventually, Chad Feldhiemer (Brad Pitt), a dumb-as-a-rock personal trainer working at a gym called Hardbodies, stumbles upon a disc containing “top secret” federal information. Another gym employee, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), ends up getting tangled up with Chad and the disc in pursuit of money that will cover her cosmetic surgery. Linda Litzke is a middle aged, single, train wreck looking for love on the Web (she blames her failed attempts at finding a man on her imperfect body). A couple of guns and federal agents later, and the plot turns into a crazy entanglement of misunderstandings and false perceptions. Everyone is in over their head, and everyone is sleeping with Pfarrer (Clooney). Needless to say, it makes for a pretty entertaining movie. Perhaps the most dynamic element of the film is its casting. The slew of great actors seem perfectly fit to their respective roles. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the bimbo personal trainer is hilarious. His zany delivery and physical comedy summon images of modern American idiocy with every move. Most impressively, he strays from his routine charismatic, nonchalant persona. George Clooney also rejects his usual persona of the overly suave lady’s man (and refreshingly so). Though still popular with women, his character’s insecurities accentuate his obnoxious paranoias. John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton deliver in supporting roles as well. Malkovich’s portrayal is pissed-off and funny, and Swinton does a number as the ice-cold, heartless wife of Cox who forces a divorce (ironically, she’s a pediatrician). Despite the hilarity that springs out of the movie’s ridiculousness, it turns overly quirky at points, but for the most part, the Coen brothers manage to convert the quirkiness into laughs. The plot is also a little slow to develop, and many of the character relationships seem a little uneven. In the end, not everything adds up completely, but overall, the point finds its way to the viewer. The Coen brothers deliver a revealing commentary on the stupidity and insecurities of the self-obsessed, ignorant America that is all too prevalent today. If you’re looking for an intelligent, “life-changing” film that you can tell all your friends about, stay at home. Burn After Reading is rude and ridiculous, but most importantly, you won’t leave the theater without some good laughs.