Laughs and gasps with “Burn After Reading”
With its Academy Awardstrewn cast and a script by the Coen brothers, moviegoers can expect to be simultaneously tickled and horrified by “Burn After Reading.”
The Coens, who won several Oscars this year for their adaptation of “No Country for Old Men,” chose to work with some lighter fare in “Burn After Reading,” — a comedy for people that enjoy political espionage films. In their latest project, which they also direct, the brothers take their audience on a jolting roller coaster ride, leaving them laughing hysterically one moment and gasping in shock and horror at the next.
Desperate to improve her chances of success at Internet dating through a series of cosmetic surgeries, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand, “North Country”) decides that the only way she can raise the funds for the procedures is to try and sell state secrets to the Russians.
Encouraged and aided by her moronic co-worker, Chad (Brad Pitt), a fitness trainer at the gym where they both work, a meeting is set up with Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a recently fired CIA analyst whose notes for a memoir are accidentally found by Chad and assumed to be top secret.
Matters are further complicated when Linda becomes involved with Harry (George Clooney), a federal marshal obsessed with jogging who is simultaneously having an affair with Osborne’s frigid dentist wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton”). Rounding out the cast of dys- functional self-involved characters is Linda’s boss at Hardbodies Gym, Ted (Richard Jenkins, “Step Brothers”) who has a notso-secret crush on Linda and is perhaps the only decent one in the lot.
McDormand seems right at home in the screwball world of the Coens. This is her third movie with the brothers (she is married to Joel Coen). Malkovich as the Princeton-educated Osborne plays the role of the swotty elitist analyst to the hilt — down to his head, which is shaved to bring all the more attention to his prodigious cranium.
Pitt’s evident delight in playing such a vacuous idiot as Chad, after a long career of playing a series of deep and brooding characters, infectiously spills out into the audience. In fact all of the actors (with the exception of Swinton) carry their glee in playing such empty-headed caricatures just a little too close to the surface to be taken seriously.
If you weren’t a fan of the ambiguous ending to “No Country for Old Men,” then you’re really not going to like the ending for this film either. It’s even more inconclusive and open-ended, wrapping up seconds after the height of the film’s action with a tongue-in-cheek exchange by two CIA agents who wonder if anything is to be learned from the day’s disasters.