Burn After Reading

This month, Mick sat down to watch the 2008 Coen brothers hit Burn After Reading. Centering around a low-level CIA agent, his poorly written memoirs, and a cast of incredibly famous people. Burn After Reading is a wonderful comedy of errors.

Of course, one can't expect anything less from Joel and Ethan Coen than a tightly wound plot full of insanely talented actors. Sporting a big cast, it's difficult to say who the main character is. We first meet John Malkovich as he gets sacked from his job at the CIA. Tilda Swinton plays his ice-cold wife. George Clooney, a sex-crazed US Marshall, soon joins the mix. Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand play two gym employees trying to strike it big through any means necessary, including blackmail.

Like another Coen brother's movie, Burn After Reading also centers on a MacGuffin. Instead of a rug that really ties the room together, it's a stolen disk containing a low-level CIA agent's memoirs. It gets lost, stolen, and passed around as everyone believes that it contains sensitive government intelligence. While the disk is the main driver of the plot, the story is centered around the relationships between the many characters, as everyone is sleeping with everyone else. Especially George Clooney.

The thing that makes Burn After Reading so entertaining is that every scene is saturated with dramatic irony. We, as viewers, see two people meet and have a conversation under one pretext, but know that there are other things happening. Time and time again, the characters make mistakes and missteps, thinking they have the upper hand. Eventually, tensions reach a tipping point and everything flies completely off the rails.

The movie closes with a hilarious recap featuring J. K. Simmons as trying to make sense of everything that unfolded over the film's tight 90 minutes. Don't be fooled by the relatively short runtime, it is very dense and you'll be hanging on every line as you try to figure out where the plot is going.

Definitely give this a watch if you like your comedies with a little more substance.