SHORT TAKE: “Burn After Reading” (*1/2)

Posted by · 12:26 pm · September 6th, 2008

Focus Features' Burn After ReadingI really didn’t like “Burn After Reading,” but I laughed.  A LOT.

I think the Coen brothers are probably the only filmmakers who can generate such a reaction.  The entire film is expendable.  It doesn’t even work on the grounds of slapstick, really.  It’s a series of events strung together, no point, no thematic ingenuity, a tapestry of…stuff.

And that’s obviously the point.  The film willfully aimless.  Like J.K. Simmons says at film’s end, “I’ll be damned if I know what happened.”  And I stand on my chair and applaud the Coens for doing exactly what they wanted to do after the critical embrace of “No Country for Old Men” last year, because it takes balls to crank out (probably knowingly) your least accomplished film one year after what could be considered your most successful one.

Only the Coens.

The star of the film’s wacky ensemble is, without a doubt, Brad Pitt.  The actor’s age, however, pokes through sometimes, making his character oddly askew and somewhat…creepy?  But he takes the bull by the horns and rides this character for all it’s worth.  Chad Feldheimer is without a doubt Pitt’s most inventive creation since Jeffrey Goines in “Twelve Monkeys.”

The rest of the cast is merely passable.  Frances McDormand gets the appropriate snorts as a superficial, middle-aged gym employee trolling the Internet for love interests.  Tilda Swinton is awkward as the stuck-up wife of John Malkovich’s disgraced CIA agent.  Malkovich provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but seems consistently aware that the story is spiraling out of control.

Elsewhere, George Clooney is probably the runner-up for talent on display as he makes his way through a character addicted to sex in the most humorous and matter-of-fact ways, while Richard Jenkins kind of gives the audience something to attach themselves to as a life jacket in the choppy waters.  Kind of.

But ultimately, the film is nothing more than a romp.  A harmless one, but a difficult one to qualify in any sense.  Enjoyable, yes, but hollow and lacking any ability to fully satisfy.  Not unlike eating large amounts of candy.

→ 17 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

17 responses so far

  • 1 9-06-2008 at 12:58 pm

    Nick Plowman said...

    I like Candy. All kinds of candy. And a lot of it. So, hopefully, I’ll like this.

  • 2 9-06-2008 at 1:29 pm

    Casey said...

    You really think Jeffrey Goines was a more inventive creation than Tyler Durden?

  • 3 9-06-2008 at 1:42 pm

    Rob said...

    Man, it’s interesting that this is getting lukewarm reviews since the all the trailers and clips I’ve seen have had me cracking up.

  • 4 9-06-2008 at 2:16 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    All Coen comedies (and usually their dramas too, sans “Fargo” and “No Country”) get mixed reviews. I remain undeterred.

  • 5 9-06-2008 at 2:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Casey: Yes.

  • 6 9-06-2008 at 2:54 pm

    Casey said...

    hmm… not a Fight Club fan I take it?

  • 7 9-06-2008 at 3:02 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No, I love Fight Club.

  • 8 9-06-2008 at 3:31 pm

    McAllister said...

    I’d probably go with Goines over Durden, as well. Not that he was more convincing as Goines than Durden, but it was more of a job to be convincing as Goines.

  • 9 9-06-2008 at 3:35 pm

    Casey said...

    Hmm… I always feel like he gets more credit for Goines than desrved. I actually think he gave a better performance that year in Se7en. imo Durden was and is his best performance without a doubt tho. what a fully realized character

  • 10 9-06-2008 at 4:14 pm

    JEFF SNEIDER said...

    Yeah, Pitt really is amazing in Seven. WHAT’S IN THE FUCKING BOX!

  • 11 9-06-2008 at 7:31 pm

    Bing147 said...

    So wait… a film who’s only goal is to be enjoyable… which is enjoyable… is a 1.5/4? Why isn’t that enough? I realize it disqualifies it from Oscar consideration for the most part or from being a great film, but whats wrong with a film just setting out to entertain and accomplishing it?

  • 12 9-06-2008 at 7:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The best Dorito in the world doesn’t deserve the same respect as the best steak in the world, Bing.

  • 13 9-06-2008 at 8:19 pm

    Bing147 said...

    No, but on a four star scale, the best dorito is still good and deserves credit for what it is. I’d rather have a great dorito than a bad steak. 1.5/4 is 38%. That’s a failure on any scale. Yet you seem to think that it accomplishes what it sets out to do. Rating a dorito down because it isn’t a steak is hardly fair. The Dorito never set out to be a steak and if its a great dorito, then that deserves praise.

  • 14 9-06-2008 at 8:39 pm

    Glenn said...

    When discussing movies like this I always use the pop music analogy. Making a great pop song is JUST AS HARD (if not harder) than a great rock song or a great punk song or whatever. Just because it’s aiming for the masses and isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel (like, say, doritos) doesn’t mean it’s less worthy of praise than something that is. And, yeah, I’d rather a great dorito than a tough gamey steak with no flavour, just like I’d rather a great Kylie Minogue song to a boring song by some dude with an acoustic guitar singing about the beach (hi Jack Johnson, Pete Murray, etc), just like I’d rather something like “Bring It On” or “The Devil Wears Prada” to almost all heavy Oscar-bait type films. They do what they do and they do it better.

    Having said that, I get where you’re coming from because it doesn’t sound like you’re just giving it a bad grade for not being important enough (although in your comments you do) and instead gave it a bad mark because it’s not well-made.

  • 15 9-06-2008 at 9:54 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    IN an y case, all of this is beside the point. Just because I laughed a lot doesn’t necessarily mean I was thoroughly entertained (I was not), and different things entertain different people.

    I think Burn is, indeed, a failure, Bing. So 38% or whatever is about right.

  • 16 9-24-2008 at 4:56 pm

    tony rock said...

    “Just because I laughed a lot doesn’t necessarily mean I was thoroughly entertained”

    I’m sorry but that’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. When normal people laugh a lot, that means they’re being entertained. This review reeks of elitism.

  • 17 9-24-2008 at 5:40 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It takes more than simple comedy to entertain me “thoroughly,” as the quote states. Sorry if that’s elitism in your book. The world is gray, tony, so it would behoove you to steer clear of black and white associations.