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Burn After Reading 2008/10/13 20:26:22

 

Here´s a prediction for you: Brad Pitt will get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor this year. In the latest flick from Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen (last year´s "No Country for Old Men"), Pitt plays Chad Feldheimer, a dimwitted, overly enthusiastic gym trainer. He and fellow trainer Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand in a wonderfully insecure performance) run across a CD with top secret government information. Well, at least they assume it´s top secret government information. These two youth obsessed wackadoos find a name (Osborne Cox, for those keeping score) and try to blackmail the ex-government analyst. And that´s not even half the story.

 

Much the same can be said for the rest of the cast. Simply by looking at them, we know their personalities, which helps the Coen brothers to no end in creating the narrative. The script needn´t bother with introducing us them. Instead, it can dive right into the plot. (And it´s a dumb plot at that, filled with infidelity, moronic halfwits and incompetent government officials.) Just when that plot can´t possibly get any more topsy turvy-don´t worry, no spoilers-the Coen´s keep a rein on the action, making sure it doesn´t get out of hand for the audience.

In the spirit of disclosure, this isn´t the usual run of the mill "comedy." "Burn After Reading" is more refined, getting its laughs not from pratfalls and pies to the face; rather, the punch lines in each scene tend to be quiet. We´re forced to look for them and comprehend the humor at the same time. There is one exception roughly halfway through the film. It´s a doozy, perhaps the funniest moment in the movies all year. Therefore, this isn´t a movie for every audience. The dark humor, lack of many "obvious" laugh out loud moments…this is a tough sell for the audience, especially so close to the release of "Tropic Thunder."

 

Which isn´t to say this isn´t a worthy, almost brilliant production. Why almost brilliant? Because of the characters. More precisely, the way they´re written. Simply, none of them are remotely likeable. Swinton´s Katie Cox is a cold hearted bitch; her lover on the side Harry (Clooney) is in the running for most infidelities in 96 minutes; Litzke is desperate to bank enough money for four different cosmetic procedures; Osborne is a loose cannon in every sense of the term. There´s not a single likeable person worth rooting for in the main cast. (Richard Jenkins as the gym manager with a crush on Linda is the most sympathetic, thanks to the actor and the character. He´s also hideously out of place in the production, surrounded by nutcases on every side.)

 

We´re not supposed to take anything in "Burn After Reading" seriously. Not the cheating, not the deaths, not the beatings, not the dichotomy between people trying to get out of relationships and the one trying to get into a coupling. No, this is a farce of the first order, ridiculously inappropriate for much of the running time, but filled with sublime comedic performances from actors we never would have thought capable. They are the focus of the film, obviously. We´re supposed to see "everyday" people in them. The woman insecure in her looks, pining for a lover. The seemingly happy couple, both cheating on one another. A miserable man always on the verge of a breakdown. We get the comedy from their simple, seemingly benign everyday interactions. Granted, they are exaggerated for effect, but the point remains.

 

An unexpected hit and the second honest to goodness Oscar contender of the year, "Burn After Reading" comes wildly endorsed with an 8.5 out of 10 rating. And guys, don´t sit down. You´ll understand after you see the movie.

 

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