"Burn After Reading" standard DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 5 Old 02-09-09, 06:05 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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"Burn After Reading" standard DVD review

A funnier title for this latest Cohen Brothers release might have been "Destroy After Viewing"
which is not to suggest that I didn't like the movie. I did and it's one of their better pictures
although one probably has to be a fan of theirs to enjoy it.

Joel and Ethan Cohen are a unique filmmakers in that they make their pictures as
a team rather than individually. Joint 'auteurists'. Both write the screenplays and they split the producing/ directing chores on set but they share a single vision. I'm not quite sure what their vision is but they are certainly stylish and off kilter. They have a very peculiar worldview in that the characters in their stories seem to take the craziest, most self destructive behavior and turn of events as the normal state of affairs. Nothing and no one are what they appear to be. Chaos is common place and ordinary. In other words they have a bizarre sense of 'normalcy'.

Their last picture, "No Country for Old Men", was disappointing in that they didn't wrap up
the loose plot ends and the movie had no climax. This story does have an ending although
it's very abrubt and there aren't concluding scenes with the lead characters which I thought
would've been appropriate.

The story takes place in Washington D.C. although it's not a partisan political narrative.
The basic premise could've easily been utilized in an action film but instead it was adapted
into their storytelling technique. As the Cohen's described it...what happens when you combine
the intelligence agency and physical fitness?

CIA agent John Malkovich quits his job and decides to write his memoirs. He accidently leaves
a CD-ROM of what appears to be government secrets at a health club where Frances McDormand
and Brad Pitt work. They find it and try to blackmail him and the Russian Embassy into giving
them cash. Interacting with these characters are other agents including George Clooney who
is a womanizer sleeping with the wives of the rest of the people involved. While this sounds
pretty cliche, once the Cohen brothers put their spin on it all kinds of wacky plot twists and
character nuance will have you laughing out loud providing you like this type of droll humor.

What's interesting from my perspective is that I really enjoyed the performances by Clooney
and Pitt, whom I'm not partial to. They both have the tendency to 'pose' instead of act in
some of their features but here they are very funny. Pitt is an absolute riot as a dopey,
spaced out health club trainer in way over his head. He's encouraged to over act and he
had me in stitches. Unfortunately he doesn't last the whole feature and you miss him
when he's gone. The other performers are all having a good time too. Malkovich plays another
volatile character who explodes in rage and anger which is his stock in trade. Cohen veteran,
McDormand is also nutty as a woman who will do anything to obtain money to get the plastic
surgery she thinks she needs to stay attractive. In fact the sub-theme is about everyone's
mid-life crisis and the extremes people will take to feel 'young' regardless of the consequences.
I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil it so I'll leave it to the viewer to discover the

The photography and sound are slick and appropriate for the story and they use a lot of their
trade mark wide angle lenses and ground level compositions. I had a good time
with this movie although I'm not sure those unfamiliar with their work will enjoy it. The Cohens
are a bit like the late Robert Altman. The appreciation of their work is based on their output as a whole. They don't utilize conventional narratives or screenplay structures and it might take a few movies to get used to their style. I would recommend seeing some of their earlier films like "Raising Arizona", "The Hudsucker Proxy" and "Barton Fink" before tackling this one cold. If you are already of fan of theirs, then you'll enjoy it.

The suppliments are disappointing. The Cohen brothers have an 'act' they use for the press
which is amusing but not particularly enlightening as to their filmmaking technique. So the
three mini-documentaries don't offer much for afficianados.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 03-27-09 at 04:17 PM.
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post #2 of 5 Old 02-10-09, 09:07 AM
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Re: "Burn After Reading" standard DVD review

This movie was some what entertaining. Its one of those movies where you need to pay attention with and yet you dont. I did not like the end, could have been better, but over all not to shabby.

"Failure has a thousand excuses, but success doesn't need one."
-Ronald Reagan

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post #3 of 5 Old 03-11-09, 10:06 PM
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Re: "Burn After Reading" standard DVD review

I was there when they filmed in NYC, Brooklyn Hights baby.
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post #4 of 5 Old 03-12-09, 11:05 AM
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Re: "Burn After Reading" standard DVD review

Thanks for the review Richard. I didn't realize "Hudsucker" was a Coen film - I enjoyed the performances in that movie...maybe they have a way of squeezing performances out of actors (like it sounds they did with Clooney and Pitt in this film).
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post #5 of 5 Old 03-27-09, 04:22 PM Thread Starter
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Posts: 792
Re: "Burn After Reading" standard DVD review


Yes they do. It is a talent to get a performance out of mediocre actors. I always thought Tim Robbins was too stiff and low key but they took that quality and made him effective in "Hudsucker Proxy".
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