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DVD Review: Burn After Reading

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Usually I have a pretty open mind about the comedy of the absurd, and the Coens have courted the absurd on a regular basis in their movies. I've missed a few movies along the way, but the ones I've seen have normally engaged my imagination, my funny bone, or something.

Barton Fink was the first bizarre Coens production that really made me sit up and take notice. And then Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou piqued my interest again over the following years. Last year, we had No Country for Old Men which gained worldwide interest for the Coens again.

So when I say that I was actually looking forward to seeing Burn After Reading, you know I'm telling you the truth. The Coens have a track record. A proven ability to create unique cinematic experiences that I could get behind.

Well, let's just say I'm confused by Burn After Reading. This is a movie with an amazing cast that did absolutely nothing for me (or my wife). The first 30 minutes were tough enough to get through, but even at the end I was wondering what the heck was going on and why we were watching these strange, lost people go through the motions.

The movie revolves around a mysterious CD that shows up on the locker-room floor in a gym. Two employees, Chad (Brad Pitt) and Linda (Frances McDormand), try to ransom it back to the owner, angry ex-CIA man Osbourne "Oz" Cox (John Malkovich). Add that a few other bizarre, selfish characters such as Katie (Tilda Swinton), the conniving wife of Osbourne Cox; Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney); and Harry's wife Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel), and you have a mess of self-involved, money-hungry, power-mad characters who are really tough to watch on screen.

Pitt was one of the high points, simply because he seemed to take so much joy in playing the vacuous and child-like Chad from the gym.

This movie received a ton of great press when it was in the theater and many people seemed to love it. I'm left scratching my head and wondering why.

The DVD includes a few extras as well.

"Finding the Burn" has the Coens and the cast talking about how the movie came to be and what it's about. A group of middle-aged people dealing with failing careers, failing relationships, and what happens when the CIA meets the world of the gym.

"DC Insiders Run Amuck" talks about how the Coens brought together this all star cast for their movie — all of these stars playing middle-aged, less than bright people with such weird lives is quite entertaining.

"Welcome Back, George" focuses on George Clooney in his third time working with the Coen brothers. You can tell that George, Ethan, and Joel all have tremendous respect for each other.

The Coens didn't do it for me this time, but if you're a Coen Brothers fan and want to check out Burn After Reading it will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on December 21, 2008.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!
  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    Sorry you didn’t get it, but I found the movie hilarious! Absurdity piled on absurdity, with JK Simmons cutting through it all to speak truth. Very funny stuff.

  • Derek Fleek

    Me and you both. Brad Pitt was indeed amusing but not enough to make the confusing story enjoyable. However, I only liked a couple of Coen Brother films like The Big Lebowski and Fargo. You mentioned taking interest in Barton Fink and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which I found insanely dull. Our taste in movies varies greatly, but we seem to agree completely with Burn After Reading. Great review.

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Brian Fitzpatrick

    @Phillip I usually love JK Simmons and he was great in his role (as always — most recently loved him in Juno), I just think I didn’t like the script. Every once in a while I just get hit by a story/plot or characters that just doesn’t do anything for me. Just goes to show why I think the movie industry is great… First, not everyone likes everything and second, it started a conversation. :)

    @Derek I have yet to see the Big Lebowski, but I’ll have to add it to my rent list. It’s been suggested by a lot of people as a film to see. “O Brother” hooked me because of the music angle I think and I just like goofy characters. :)

    Thanks for the great comments guys!