Joel and Ethan Coen are among the most celebrated filmmakers in history, releasing a string of films that are hits with critics and everyday moviegoers alike. The Coens are known, above all else, for their gripping characterizations of every day individuals in extraordinary situations.
Their latest picture, ‘Burn After Reading,’ stars John Malkovich, George Clooney, Francis McDormand and Brad Pitt in a dark comedy about a mismatched bunch of frustrated middle aged idiots trying to cope with their quickly unraveling lives.
‘Despite the Washington setting, this picture is really about shockingly dumb people doing dumb things involving sex and other situations. What makes it even more interesting is that they’re not politicians,’ Clooney said in a press release.
Based in and around Washington, D.C. but having little to do with politics or politicians, ‘Burn After Reading’ follows the misadventures set into motion when a drunk and disgruntled Osborne Cox, played by Malkovich, is fired from the CIA.
Cox proceeds to head home to Georgetown and his Scotch whiskey, his memoirs and his ice queen wife Katie, played by Tilda Swinton. Katie Cox is in locked in an affair with washed-up federal marshal and unapologetic letch Harry Pfarrer, played by Clooney.
A CD containing Osborne Cox’s unfinished memoirs is inadvertently left in the ladies’ locker room at Hardbodies, a D.C.-area gym, and a hilarious half-baked blackmail scheme ensues.
Though ‘Burn After Reading’ showcases an all-star cast at its comedic best, the real highlights in the film are Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand as a dynamic duo of clueless Hardbodies employees.
Their scheme to blackmail Osborne Cox for his misplaced memoirs, what Pitt calls his ‘sensitive shit,’ sets in motion a roller coaster of offbeat chase scenes and a countless chances for two well-respected actors to play completely believable buffoons.
Joel and Ethan Coen have achieved god-like status among film buffs and those in the industry for their probing displays of human nature. Clooney and Pitt, both first-timers working with the writing and directing team, are coaxed into characters which are the very antithesis of those they are known for, still coming across as completely natural.
Pitt is a riot as Chad, the gum-snapping, spandex-wearing Hardbodies bottom-feeder with a terrible hair dye-job. For Pitt to come across as dimwitted and almost childlike is a testament to the actor, and to the Coens.
Whether it be lighter comedy (‘The Big Lebowski’) or serious subject matter (Academy Award-winners ‘Fargo’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’), the Coens excel at developing funny personalities that serve as both archetypes and believable human beings.
‘Burn After Reading,’ rated R, opened Friday September 8th nationwide and should be on the must see list for lovers of fine filmmaking, or those just looking to laugh like hell for a full 96 minutes.