Burn After Reading (2008)

burn after reading

8/10

A nice ensemble of characters struggle with daily life and make silly decisions, leading to funny scenes. The CIA tries to make sense of it.

The Coen Brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowsky, No Country For Old Men) are on a killing spree these last years. Burn After Reading is the Coen Brother’s take on special agent CIA Bourne Identity-like thriller movies, but then, you know, the Coen way. The lazy way to summarize this movie is to say it is a story of morons with weird hairdos who do moronic stuff and the CIA is trying to figure out just what the hell is going on.

This movie takes some very charismatic actors, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and makes them look like suburban dorks. There is no a political dimension to this movie and there isn’t really a hero to this story. There is a sort of tragic character, played by John Malkovich who is so terrific at getting totally mad. He starts as a member of the CIA with a nice suit, the enlightened bunch that tries to make sense of everything, but falls from grace and becomes one of the morons, even as he doesn’t see it that way (but look how his clothing changes towards the end).

What is quite unique about this movie is that all the main characters are unimportant, middle-aged people. They are all suffering from a personal crisis, whether it is unhappiness about their marriage or their aging bodies. All these crises describe their actions, which sort of collide at odd moments with disastrous results. The anguish and problems of the characters are very familiar and human and so there is a tragic undertone to the story, but at the same time it is a “light” tale and very humoristic.

There isn’t much of a plot to this movie. Well, you could explain it in detail but it isn’t important. The point is just that people do stupid things. After a tale full of strange stories, mistakes and coincidences, the CIA chief J.K. Simmons asks his colleague something like this: “What a mess. What have we learned from this? I guess we have learned not to do it again. I just wish I knew what the hell we did.”

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