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Burn After Reading - Review

Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading.

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

YOU have to admire the Coen brothers… having won four Oscars and numerous other awards for their sombre masterpiece No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan have confounded expectation by turning back to comedy for their next cinematic outing.

Burn After Reading follows the fall out when an ousted CIA official’s memoirs fall into the hands of two unwise gym employees, who subsequently try to use them for their own personal gain. Despite being set in the world of spies and surveillance, it’s a largely inconsequential effort that offers plenty of undemanding fun for viewers not expecting too much.

Indeed, one of the biggest joys of watching events unfold is seeing just how much fun the Coens’ terrific cast is having with the material.

George Clooney, for instance, is terrific as a womanising federal marshal who is convinced people are following him, cleverly subverting his usual charisma to appear jittery and almost cowardly by comparison, while his Ocean’s 11 running mate Brad Pitt is often hilarious as a dim-witted gym freak who finds himself out of his depth in the world of blackmail. Their on-screen reunion is one of several jaw-dropping moments that the Coens drop in for fun.

But Frances McDormand, as his gym colleague, is also fun as a middle-aged woman desperate to secure the funds she needs for a procedure to prolong her good looks, while Richard Jenkins is typically solid in the relatively minor role of McDormand’s sympathetic boss, who has secret feelings for her.

John Malkovich, meanwhile, gets to shout and curse in increasingly OTT fashion as the hot-tempered CIA exec whose misplacement of his memoirs triggers the violent chain of events, while Tilda Swinton turns in another cold-hearted bitch to rival her performance in Michael Clayton (again, alongside Clooney) and JK Simmons steals many of the movies finest moments as a superior attempting to catch up with (and hide) the fallout that results.

Burn After Reading may lack the substance and wide-reaching subtext of No Country… but it rewards viewers in other ways. The characters and pratfalls that befall them are more reminiscent of their work in The Big Lebowski (minus the drugs), while the violence is in keeping with some of their grittier material.

It’s just a really fun ride that comes complete with the odd surprise and some typically well-written interplay.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95mins
UK Release Date: October 17, 2008