Burn After Reading (2008)
Plot: Former CIA analyst Osbourne Cox is blackmailed by two employees of a gym after they find a CD containing secret CIA information and trace it back to him.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt.
After watching Joel and Ethan Coen’s Burn After Reading, I must admit that I’m left without words. This is not because I found it so good that I can’t even begin to describe it – no, far from that – it is rather because the only thing I could think of was: ‘what have I just watched?’
The story starts out quite promisingly to be honest: John Malkovich’s character (Osbourne Cox) resigns from his job as analyst at the CIA and decides to vent his feelings against his former colleagues by writing his memoirs. Meanwhile, his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) has an affair with deputy U.S. Marshal Harry (George Clooney) and plans on divorcing Osbourne. At this point, two new characters are introduced: Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt), who both work at a gym. They blackmail Osbourne, threatening to disclose CIA sensitive information from a CD they found in the gym’s locker room. The CD contains files from Osbourne’s computer – which his wife had downloaded to hand them to her lawyer, but had been misplaced by an employee of her law firm.
From there on, everything becomes a gigantic mess. The stories of the characters get entangled, even the Russian embassy is involved at some point, and you expect a revealing twist in the plot – something decisive to tie up all the loose ends – except the twist never comes. The story seems to unfold without any actual plan. The guilty get away with their crimes and the ending is rushed, leaving you with the feeling that you’ve wasted 135 minutes of your time watching something pointless and just downright bad.
On a brighter note, Brad Pitt’s performance as the slow-witted Chad was quite fun, even though he was trying too hard at some points to be credible. Tilda Swinton’s and George Clooney’s characters are just despicable: the former is just a heartless cheating wife, the latter an unrelenting womaniser, though each are comical at times. The one character who should have had more screentime is the one played by John Malkovich. It would have been interesting to see more of him. Sadly, he almost disappears for a good portion of the film, giving room to the story of annoying Linda – really, the woman is just plain stupid and delusional – and bordering psychopath Harry.
So, in the end, I can only say that this film seemed to have no redeeming qualities for me and for this reason I really wouldn’t recommend it.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.