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Coen Brothers Return With Burn After Reading

Published September 12, 2008 in Early Reviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Focus Features
Burn After Reading PosterBurn After Reading
Burn After Reading is like Raising Arizona as The Bourne Identity. I know the Coen Brothers would prefer I not compare it to their previous movies, but we like their previous movies so it's a compliment.

Review: Burn After Reading


First of all, Osborne Cox is a funny name. All the names are funny. Bitter John Malkovich freaking out is a good start.

The film takes an ultra serious espionage tone. It's just idiots going through it. Well, perhaps it's melodramatic, but not so much that it telegraphs the humor.

Most of that humor comes from people saying banal things in a silly voice. The Coens have also done that before, but it works here. They've also got characters oblivious to what's in front of them, which is pretty funny too.

I was actually not a fan of Fargo because I just didn't think the silly voices were that funny. Now I'm thinking that maybe because that situation was so plausible, it seemed to demand more from the characters. This situation is inconsequential and so that's the comedy. If it were mundane, the characters would not be outrageous enough. All this analysis is to say this movie cracked me up.



Brad Pitt is so committed as the goofy meathead, flamboyant with his physicality and totally joyful. Everyone does their schtick well but this is really a new high for Pitt.

The overall tone I like the filmmakers saying, "Yeah, we did that. That just happened. You saw it. It's stupid but we don't care." They just keep letting it roll from being innocently dirty at times to farcical and referential. Even the character's point of view shots are funny.

The fake romantic comedy and the callback to its star is great. There are a few running gags that get funnier each time and really pay off.

They construct effective misunderstandings to allow these things to happen, these people to meet. It's not like they just took characters and thought of stuff they could do. It really works as a whole. When it all comes together, the frustrating exasperation of the ones figuring it all out is the ultimate joke.

Climaxing in a sort of anti-Tommy Lee Jones No Country For Old Men capper, Burn After Reading is another thumb of the nose to genre from The Coen Brothers.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Focus Features
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