Review – Burn After Reading

Since the Coen brothers directed “Burn After Reading,” I was expecting something in a similar vein to their earlier dark comedy, “The Ladykillers,” about a group of bumbling robbers digging a tunnel from the basement of a black woman’s house into a casino vault next door. While it had some hilarious moments, the cat stole the show. When one of the robbers blasted his finger off, the cat took off with it, and, at the end of movie, dropping the finger from a bridge to a garbage barge passing underneath that the robbers used to dispose of tunnel debris and dead bodies, which sums up the stupidity in the movie.

When CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) gets demoted for an “alleged” drinking problem on the job, he either quits or got fired since no one knows for sure. (Another character remarks about Washington, D.C., “Everyone in this town who quits is actually fired.”) He goes home to tells his wife, Kate (Tilda Swinton), that he’s writing his memior. She thinks he went off on the deep end and consults a divorce attorney because she’s having an affair with his best friend, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney).

Harry hits the Internet dating scene for serial one-night stands while his wife is away on an extended business trip. He meets Frances (Linda Litzke), a trainer at the Hardbodies Gym, who believes that she needs plastic surgery to find Mr. Right (although she seems respectfully hot for a middle-aged woman). Osborne gets kicked out of his house to live on his boat, and Harry stays with Kate while seeing Frances.

After a compact disc with the memoir and financial records are found in the locker room (accidentally left by the secretary for the divorce attorney), Linda and her co-worker, Chad (Brad Pitt), decides to blackmail Osborne for cash. When that fails, they storm the Russian embassy to get a better deal. The Russians, in turn, informed the CIA, as the information they provided was worthless. As Chad snoops around the Cox house to get more info to give the Russians, he is accidentally shot to death by Harry, who is proud to say that he never shot his gun in 20 years of service for the Treasury Department. Things spiral out of control as paranoia runs rampant.

The movie was dark, if not under lit, and humorless. With the exception of cutting remarks about spouses that only married people in the audience found funny, this wasn’t a funny movie. Even with Brad Pitt playing a total idiot all the time wasn’t that funny most of the time. Was this movie about a CIA screw up that involves married people having affairs, or married people having affairs that the CIA feels obligated to clean up after? The CIA chief (J.K. Simmons) sums up the entire mess as being much ado about nothing, which was the funniest five minutes out of the whole movie.