Retro Review: Burn After Reading
The Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading is one of those movies you probably need to see twice to truly appreciate how brilliant they are. There’s just so much going on it’s impossible to grasp everything on first viewing and only on second viewing do you realise how truly intricate, layered and perfectly though out it is.
But even after seeing it twice it’s still not obvious what exactly the movie is saying. Maybe it’s just pure nihilism and not *about* anything. But that wouldn’t really be much of a problem as the movie is just so…funny! When a movie is as funny as this one it doesn’t really need to be anything more. But, as it turns out, Burn After Reading has more to offer.
Burn After Reading’s plot may seem to revolve around a missing disc. It’s really just a MacGuffin of sorts, though, as this movie is really about the hopeless love lives of its characters. The film deftly blends together mundane normal life with the life of a secret agent and it’s really about how unremarkable all our lives are. Everyone just wants to be loved.
The casting is pitch perfect with all the leads nailing their roles. The highlight is clearly monsieur Brad Pitt who proves yet again his real forte lies in comedy. He’s already proved in 12 Monkeys and Snatch that he can do weird and funny really well, but his performance here is the funniest and most inspired one of his career. George Clooney,, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand as well as David Rasche and JK Simmons in small parts, are all great too. Every character has their strange, Coen-like quirks and mannerisms, but the actors manage to make them their own. They make these silly characters three-dimensional.
The filmmaking is pure genius. It’s fluidly edited and beautifully shot, without calling too much attention to itself, and the film evokes a great feeling of a classic spy movie while at the same time fucking with the genre without quite mocking it. This is a movie that keeps you laughing throughout and calling it clever is just not strong enough, it’s simply ingenious. The dialogue is razor-sharp and you notice new details in each viewing, many of which will have you laughing for days afterwards.
All in all Burn After Reading is very much a Coen brothers movie, like The Big Lebowski or Raising Arizona. The brothers proved with True Grit and No Country For Old Men that they can adapt other people’s works with ease, showcasing their command of the medium and putting a little of their own character into them as well. But they’re really in their element when do their own stuff and go wild, as in Burn After Reading. It’s truly their own kind of movie and if you dig it, it’s a blast.
This dialogue exchange, which comes in the film’s final (and probably best) scene pretty much sums the movie up:
CIA Superior: What did we learn, Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don’t know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don’t fuckin’ know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I’m fucked if I know what we did.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say.
Final Verdict: The Coen brothers at their finest and most Coen-esque. This is by far one of the funniest movies of recent years, not to mention one of the most underrated. It might be pure nihilism, but it’s great fun while it lasts.