Movie Review: Burn After Reading

BradPittThumbby Brad Nelson
What is a dark comedy? Well, it’s the opposite of the movies that stir the so-called nobler emotions. Dark comedies are about laughing when somebody proverbially slips on a banana peel. That’s the opposite of the warm-fuzzy emotions stirred by Bambi, Tinkerbell, and Avatar.

That’s why some people do not like dark comedies. It’s not necessarily because they can’t laugh but that they don’t want to laugh. It’s not socially acceptable to laugh at murder, injury, and the just plain bad luck of other people, fictional though they may be. How does one flatter oneself if you laugh at the misfortunes of others? Better to stick to the wafer-thin Avatar movies if that is what one is looking for.

But if one likes taking a romp on the Dark Side of the Movie Force every once in a while, you could do much worse than watch a Coen Brothers movie.

Burn After Reading

With a cast that includes Brad Pitt and George Clooney, my expectations were pretty low going into this. I smelled a “liberal flake” movie coming at me from a mile away…just another postmodern West Wing-like retelling of our State Department and intelligence agencies. But as it turned out, this was an absolutely A-#1 twisted black comedy the likes of which I hadn’t seen in some time.

Okay, I’ll admit that Brad Pitt’s performance as the dude-ish airhead physical fitness coach left me scratching my head at times. It’s sometimes tough to parse the difference between being stupid and playing stupid. But Pitt eventually won me over. He was playing “stupid” quite well.

The other performances were even better, especially John “eff you” Malkovich, Frances McDormand (a Coen Brothers staple), and Tilda Swinton (the White Witch from Narnia). George Clooney, again, played George Clooney. But that worked fine for what it was. And what it was was an offbeat tale of a lady’s (Linda Litzke, played by Frances McDormand) quest for the money to pay for cosmetic surgery – and damn the consequences. It’s narcissism gone wild, wonderfully spoofed.

How does this intersect with a spy thriller, you may ask? Well, that’s where the quirkiness comes in. I wish more movies had this sense of humor, because it is this sense of humor that tickles my funny bone as Joel and Ethan Coen present plenty of banana peels for people to slip on. But this is smart humor, well-acted. McDormand does an amazing job being the human icon for shallowness and damn-everyone-else narcissism. I found it a great (and dark) commentary on our fellow man. And I still can’t get the hilarious dropped f-bombs of John Malkovich out of my head. What a performance. I loved this guy.

If you like Repo Man, Buckaroo Bonzai and films with that general flavor of subtle, even twisted, humor, you’ll like this film. But it’s a film that could very easily be outside of some people’s funny bone zone. A quick look at the overall rating and a review at suggests that this film is a bit too sophisticated for some (although it does, indeed, come in the guise of idiot humor…you’d think at least many would enjoy it even if they weren’t in on the joke).

But to me this film is nothing short of extremely good. I found nearly every scene to be compelling. And I found it to be one of those rare quirky movies that knew how to end itself, which even The Holy Grail was not able to do. I give it 3-1/4 John Malkovich f-bombs out of 5. I highly recommend it with the above caveats noted. • (736 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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