DVD Review
by Kevin Carr

    MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    George Clooney as HARRY PFARRER
    Frances McDormand as LINDA LITZKE
    Brad Pitt as CHAD FELDHEIMER
    John Malcovich as OSBORNE COX
    Tilda Swinton as KATIE COX

    Rated R
    Studio: Focus Features

    Directed by: The Coen Brothers

    Back to DVD Review Home


Earlier this year when I saw “Burn After Reading” in the theaters, I likened it to “The Big Lebowski.” In a vacuum, it’s a pretty good film. However, when it’s compared to the Coen Brothers’ previous effort, it is a bit pale.

“Burn After Reading” has a lot to live up to after “No Country for Old Men,” just as “The Big Lebowski” had a lot to live up to after the directors really turned some heads with “Fargo.” So, if you approach “Burn After Reading” in the shadow of “No Country for Old Men,” you stand to be disappointed.

However, after several months to clean the palate, the movie plays much better on DVD. At the very least, I knew what to expect from this film. After all, the Coen Brothers’ films are almost always difficult to pigeonholed.

Still, leave it to the Coen Brothers to find the perfect words to describe their own movie. On the DVD special features of “Burn After Reading,” they explain that this movie is their attempt at a Tony Scott action piece. The only difference is that there’s no explosions, no action, and all the characters are idiots.

This is what you have to understand before you see this movie. It’s not a comedy. It’s not a drama. It’s not an action piece, although it’s the closest the Coen Brothers are going to get to an action piece.

“Burn After Reading” is somewhere in the middle.

It’s a story about a group of dim-witted gym employees who find a CD in the locker room. They assume these are classified CIA files, even though they are the poorly-written memoirs of a recently fired CIA middleman named Osborne Cox (John Malcovich). Two of the employees named Linda and Chad (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) hatch a plan to blackmail Cox.

Of course, Cox doesn’t cooperate, so Linda and Chad try to find another person to sell the files to. Meanwhile, Treasury agent and sex addict Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) is sleeping with Cox’s wife (Tilda Swinton) and strikes up another relationship with Linda. Soon, they discover that their lives are somehow linked, and everything falls apart in a very violent way.

“Burn After Reading” comes across even better in a second viewing. Additionally, the special features on the disc, while sparse, do offer some more insight into the film itself. Costume designer Mary Zophres gets an awful lot of screen time in the bonus material, but it’s well worth it.

You wouldn’t think that the costume designer of the film could put so much in perspective. However, she highlights how she worked to make both Brad Pitt and George Clooney to look like loveable idiots, and she also points out how John Malkovich’s wardrobe deteriorates through the film as his character does.

Bonus features on this disc include two basic making-of featurettes and a comedic look at George Clooney and how he always ends up playing the fool for the Coen Brothers.

One of the best parts of this film is the idiocy that all the characters embody. In particular, Brad Pitt is hysterical and has excellent chemistry with Frances McDormand. With all the buzz surrounding Pitt in his dramatic performance in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” I wish more people would remember the loveable and knuckleheaded Chad character from this film. That’s the real award-winning performance in my book.

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