Just saw "Burn After Reading" <MINOR SPOILERS>

Interesting film; I'm not sure if I liked it or not.

Incredible cast, but strange pacing. The story is all over the places and the characters interact in surprising ways. Those elements remind me a bit of "The Big Lebowski," to which BAR has already been compared. Well, let's be honest: BAR is not TBL, mostly because it doesn't have a protagonist you can root for (unlike TBL's The Dude).

Best performances are, IMHO, by John Malkovich as a wronged CIA spook, Brad Pitt as a dim-witted (and pompadoured) gym employee, and Richard Jenkins as Pitt's boss (whose sound advice isn't heeded). Clooney and Tilda Swinton were good but mostly underused.

Wow, I'm really tired, and this review sucks. For now, I'll give the film a B. It's uneven and has more jarring shifts in tone than the usual Coen Bros. movie. That said, the ending is better than that of last year's "No Country for Old Men."



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What about Frances McDormand?

Terribelle's picture

I've been in love with her since Raising Arizona, and I've wanted to be her sex slave since Fargo.

They may not have jumped the shark...

michael3b's picture

...but they're trying on waterskis.


There's a full-fledged review of this in my head if the site wants it. Anyhow- if you're a fan of Intolerable Cruelty, then this is a flick for you. Otherwise, it's a disjointed group of selfish people acting like mental cases (instead of people) doing nothing much of interest with not much of a sense of humor- unless you consider verbal and emotional tics and porniture* funny. The CIA dudes even tell us directly that the plot meant nothing- spoonfeeding the audience the morals to the story sucks. But even this would be fine by me so long as the shit going on and/or the people onscreen were fun to watch. Not so much here.

I really want to know what they told the leads in terms of character and motivation.

"OK, get in there and act retarded. Not you, Malkovich. You just be yourself, stutter and say the word FUCKING the way you always do. aaaaand ACTION!"

Pitt revises his 13 Monkeys daffyness to no good effect, Clooney revists O Brother Where Art Thou, McDormand does her best Jack Nicholson as the Joker impersonation... and in keepoing with the humor angle two people get brutally murdered. I may have to start agreeing with Spike Lee regarding their lax, if not gratuitous, attitude toward murder. I'll think about it...

Things ain't all bad, though. It looked nice. And there were a couple of stirring moments which really only stood out because they didn't fit inside the rest of the story's mood...and they were like sore thumbs against a backdrop of lame character acting by people who are no longer actors themselves but characters we know too well. They just can't pull this sort of shit off anymore.

Waitress! Oceans 14, STAT!

*porniture copyright 2008 3b industries

I'm downgrading my grade from a "B" to a "B-."

HS's picture

Because I'd prolly give No Country a B and this wasn't as good as No Country. Giving it a "C" sounds harsh - it wasn't *that* bad. Many of the scenes work but several do not, and both Malkovich and Pitt are quite funny in BAR.

I didn't comment on Frances McDormand's performance because I'm not sure where I'd rank it on her resume. She was leagues better in Fargo and Almost Famous...or maybe it's just that her character (SPOILER here) is the meanest, most unredeemable in the entire film...and you can't relate to her AT ALL.

The dildo scene was very funny, if totally out of left field.


For a comedy of errors,

RidingFool's picture

it was rather funny. Sections of the audience were laughing along with me, but others in the theater just didn't get most of it.

And who can resist believing that the totally incompetent CIA wouldn't do what it did by movie's end?

Depends on your point of view

Coaster's picture

HS said:

"... her character (SPOILER here) is the meanest, most unredeemable in the entire film...and you can't relate to her AT ALL."

It's quite obvious HS has never been married and even obviouser that he's never been divorced.

==Coaster (Whooooeeee!) 


A local film critic said the humor in BAR is coated in arsenic

Dan_in_Cincinnati's picture

And not in a good way. So my question is does this aspect of the movie make it unwatchable? The Coens have always populated their comedies with idiots doing non-sensible things. But apparently this time the idiots are also unlikeable. Can anyone comment on this?

Dan in Miami

It's not that they're idiots...

michael3b's picture

It's that they're not human. Who the hell acts the way these people do? I could at least relate to the Raising Arizona characters- they were over-the-top, but not aliens. This time it was like they all made up weirdo personalities out of thin air and read the script. Might as well have had them dress themselves as their favorite cartoon character, too. Malkovitch gets a pass because he's a drunken CIA agent...and John Malkovitch...and who knows what the hell that type of person is like.

Otherwise the plot is simple enough- but the cinematic hooks, bells, whistles, and dialogue that should have fleshed out the thing just weren't there. Not for me anyhow.

Ah, well.. they've had some duds in the past with run of the mill stuff like Intolerable Cruelty, Hudsucker Proxy, and The Man Who Wasn't There... maybe the shark stunt will wait a few more tries.

I laughed my ass off.

Ronin's picture

Okay, I laughed my ass off at the second half of the movie - the first half was all setup. RidingFool's "comedy of errors" is dead on. And I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who liked the ending.

This is not a "serious" movie. There is no art motive here. It's just a black comedy about stupid people doing stupid things, and suffering the predictable results. Consider it Beavis & Butthead all grown up, living in Washington, DC.

About that purple cushion George is seen hustling into the house

RidingFool's picture


I know I've also seen him on some talk show with the thing, but I can't remember where or when - a couple of years ago, I believe.


Drew_Atreides's picture

I have to admit i found "Burn After Reading" incredibly entertaining.  There are some bust your gut-laughoutloud moments in here (almost every scene Pitt is in has you giggling, and the final scene is absolutely brilliant), but the best part is how the Coens will turn it all on it's head and present you with a moment of unrelenting brutality moments after you were snickering like a schoolgirl..

The moral of the story is genius.

Not QUITE in the same league as "The Big Lebowski", but it's still a heckuva movie.


The cockpit.. what is it?

It's the little room at the front of the plane...

michael3b's picture

...where the pilot sits. But that's not important right now.

What is important is that you enjoy movies on your own terms. Don't let The Man bring you down.  Of course, The Man reserves the right to ridicule anyopne who disagrees with him.

The forward lavatory?

RidingFool's picture


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