Burn After Reading – not quite as advertised, but worth seeing

I saw Burn After Reading on Friday night with Hassan and my friend Logan.  It wasn’t quite what I was expecting but still well worth seeing. The cast is a veritable Justice League of actors, with Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormond, all of whom give great performances.  John Malkovich is amazing down to every single gesture (though that’s pretty much a given), and Brad Pitt is especially entertaining, just because the doofy aging gym bunny he plays is such a fun contrast to the standard Brad-Pitt-action-hero character. Here’s the trailer:

About 20 minutes into the movie, I whispered to Logan and Hassan, “This is good, but it’s not quite the way it was advertised. (Yes, I engage in during-movie whispering, but only on a very limited basis and at a low decibel level.) From the trailer, I thought it was sort of a bizarro action comedy with Brad Pitt and Frances McDormond caught in the middle of some big spy plot with CIA agent John Malkovich.   

All that is true, but not quite a complete picture.  It’s actually much more of an ensemble piece, with all five actors getting a good amount of screen time, and sort of a kaleidoscope story that follows not only the CIA plot (which is really much ado about nothing) but also the sexual relationships and hijinx between all these characters. 

It’s also much lighter on the action and much heavier on the bizarro. The movie almost gets surrealist at times, with moments of realism that brilliantly capture the idiosyncracies of the human ego intertwined with bizarre situations that seem to snowball beyond anyone’s control. I think it’s probably one of those movies, like The Princess Bride, that gives the marketing team a huge headache because it falls outside the box of anything else out there.

And, if nothing else, the movie is proof that producers/directors/writers the Coen Brothers (Fargo, Paris Je T’aime, No Country for Old Men) have maybe the widest range of any creative team out there.

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