The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Cohen Bros. Score Another Hit with "Burn After Reading"

2 min read


The Coen Brothers’ comedies usually range from comedic genius to mediocrity.  Their latest, “Burn After Reading,” fortunately lands closer to the former.

Though not on par with “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”  and  “The Big Lebowski,” their newest film is still extremely funny and unlike any other comedy you’ve ever seen.

The Coen Brothers are renowned for their thrillers like their spectacular debut, “Blood Simple” (1984), and the Academy Award Winning “Fargo” (1996) and “No Country for Old Men”

While their thrillers are often full of dark humor, their ventures into the realm of purer comedy are often hit-and-miss with titles like “The Ladykillers” (2004) and “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003) being only average and films like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) and “The Big Lebowski” (1998) being comedic gems.

“Burn After Reading,” their newest film, falls into the latter category, and while it isn’t quite as good as “O Brother” and far from the greatness of “Lebowski,” it’s still a very funny movie.

With an all-star cast featuring Coen Brothers staples Frances McDormand and to a lesser extent, George Clooney, the film is full of original characters.

McDormand plays a woman preoccupied with her aging and is obsessed with finding a man to the point of turning to crime, Clooney plays a rabid sex addict, John Malkovich is the disgruntled and embittered former government employee on the edge, and Brad Pitt is…well…an idiot.

But not the typical idiot whose comedy comes from his idiocy—Brad Pitt shines in all of his scenes as a complete fool trying—and succeeding in his mind—to be intelligent and mysterious.

The film also features Tilda Swinton and a slew of great character actors such as J.K. Simmons (HBO’s “Oz,” “Juno,” “Spiderman”) and several ‘serious’ actors playing their typecast roles in a comedic light.
By the end you’ll have lost track of how you arrived there but you won’t feel like you’ve missed anything.  The characters are so delightfully quirky and refreshing, the dialogue so witty and cutting, the situations so unconventional and bizarre that there was no real need for a plot except to tie the various storylines together.

The film is very strange, with several moments being almost incompatible with the world of comedy.  While this collision of genres often comes off as amateurish in film, the Coen Brothers employ it with the utmost care, making for an incredibly unique film experience.

Partly a satire of the later Tom Clancy movies of government conspiracies, international espionage and political intrigue, the film is one of the most intelligent parodies out there, treating everything with an appropriate degree of subtlety, an art that has been lost in the recent wave of horrible spoofs.

The cast is great, the writing is spot-on, and the direction is excellent.  Definitely worth the $8.  And while you’re at it, see “The Big Lebowski.”