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    Burn After Reading

    To Coen a Phase

    A pleasant return to the silliness of the Coens' earlier pictures from the stiltedness of their latter-day offerings.


    There are elements of several decent Coen Brothers movies in the new Coen Brothers movie "Burn After Reading" (or "Brûlure Après Lecture" to Coen a phase), what with Frances McDormand's ditzy Linda Litzke (memoirs of pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson in "Fargo") and her relationship with her Hardbodies Fitness Center co-worker Chad Feldheimer (reminiscent of that between H.I. and Ed McDunnough in "Raising Arizona") not to mention a few lackluster ones — bureaucratic boardroom bunglings at the Federal level mirror their "'Hudsucker'" shenanigans rubbing corporeal shoulders with George Clooney's ever-present trademark smirk (shades of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "'Cruelty" of the intolerable kind).

    Written and directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.
    Produced by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.
    Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, J.K. Simmons.
    Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki.
    Edited by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.
    Music by: Carter Burwell.
    Production design by: Jess Gonchor.
    Art direction by: David Swayze.
    Costumes by: Mary Zophres.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Yet on a different level the new one plays like a darkly comic take on "Michael Clayton" (Clooney once more, butting heads and other body parts with a tempestuous Tilda Swinton in both outings) or a teaser for a yet unrealized Steven Soderbergh "Ocean's" project with Clooney and William Bradley Pitt (Feldheimer herein) already payrolled. And then there's John Malkovich who, beyond simply being John Malkovich (of course), lends this comedy-drama a certain bald-pated, F-bomb-laden je ne sais quoi.

    Osbourne "Ozzie" Cox (Being John) is a CIA agent with a level 3 clearance and a drinking problem, the latter of which prompts his early "retirement" as "Burn After Reading" opens. Outraged by his unjustified dismissal, Ozzie decides to write a tell-all book, much to the amusement of his wife Katie (Swinton), who herself is having a tryst with Clooney's Harry Pfarrer, a former Treasury man.

    Burn After Reading  
    Before long Ozzie's former secretary has misplaced a critical data disc at the local gym and its discovery (by the iffy Chad) initiates a typically Coen-centric blackmail plot (ala "Fargo") since blonding Linda really needs the money for bombshell boobs.

      The strength of this slow "Burn'" comes via its fully-realized characterizations.
    While the writing isn't quite as tight or as funny as it might have been — writing, directing, and producing duties are this time credited to both brothers — the strength of this slow "Burn'" comes via its fully-realized characterizations — its performers certainly work overtime! McDormand's Linda is, essentially, a riff on Marge G. but it's an honest one, punctuated by this Internet dater's passionate belief in bettering her body for the good of mankind. Pitt's boyish Chad is a self-deprecating stab at his pretty-boy persona, deliciously delivered. Even Clooney's annoying smugness is downplayed considerably here; Harry obsesses (at least early on in the script before the Coens lose his estimable way) about what he puts in his mouth and floor coverings with equal appreciation.

    Burn After Reading  
    Richard Jenkins ("The Visitor," "High Country") contributes another worthwhile performance as Linda and Chad's meek Hardbodies boss who ultimately falls afoul of Malkovich's furious hatchetman and both David Rasche and J. K. Simmons (Spidey's J. Jonah Jameson) lend consistently droll plot assists as government suits whose "intelligence is relative."

      On one level the Coens' new one plays like a darkly comic take on "Michael Clayton."
    Sandwiched between its Google Earth-inspired opening and closing shots the entertaining "Burn After Reading" is a pleasant return to the silliness of the Coens' earlier pictures from the stiltedness of their latter-day offerings. It's "a bright American farce."

    SEPTEMBER 25, 2008

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