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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » October 29, 2008
The world of movies
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Burn After Reading
October 29, 2008 By Witold Żygulski   
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The Coen brothers have long enjoyed an exalted status in Hollywood. Critics rave about everything Ethan and Joel do, regardless of what the movie-going public think. The Coens seem to love veering from gloomy and pessimistic pictures like the multi-award winning Fargo and No Country for Old Men to light parodies packed with dark humor like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. Their latest offering, Burn After Reading, falls into the latter category.

The Coens are guaranteed any actors they want in addition to blind praise from critics. As Javier Bardem says, "You don't say 'no' to the Coens." The Spanish actor, whose role in No Country for Old Men won him an Oscar, said he accepted the role immediately his agent rang to say the Coens wanted him, even though he knew almost nothing about the project.

Burn After Reading was guaranteed to draw huge audiences simply for its stellar cast. But in true Coen style, the actors play characters as far removed from their familiar on-screen image as possible. Most of the big Hollywood names here get to play imbeciles.

The Coens brought George Clooney (Syriana, Good Night, and Good Luck, Ocean's Eleven trilogy) back to the big screen for O Brother, Where Art Thou? some years back. This was Clooney's chance to shed his Dr. Ross persona after 108 episodes of the ER television show. This time round, Clooney plays Treasury clerk Harry Pfarrer, a dimwitted man whose driving passion is to design an armchair fitted with a huge vibrator. Pfarrer's lover, Katie (Tilda Swinton-Michael Clayton, Orlando, The Chronicles of Narnia), is married to Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich-In the Line of Fire, The Killing Fields, Con Air), a CIA agent whose drinking gets him fired. Cox tries to justify himself to his boss with "You're a Mormon! Compared to you we all have a drinking problem." Katie wants a divorce and downloads her husband's computer files to CD on the advice of her attorney. These include a vindictive book Osbourne has written about "The Company." In it, the erstwhile operative gives a gripping account of his CIA years, replete with lavish helpings of classified information. Katie loses the CD at the gym, where it eventually finds its way to fitness instructor and prize cretin Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt-Babel, Troy, Seven). Chad and his colleague Linda (Frances MacDormand-Fargo) hatch a plan to blackmail Osbourne, the idea being to finance more plastic surgery for Linda, herself only a tad smarter than Chad. What ensues is a convoluted comedy of errors and a pile of corpses.

Movie and pop culture icon Pitt has had more than a few opportunities to display his comedic bent and adroitness in handling grotesque roles in movies like Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys and Guy Ritchie's Snatch. Pitt excels himself in Burn After Reading, even eclipsing Clooney, who convincingly plays an idiot. Malkovich stands alone in the main cast in that he does not have to reinvent himself at all, having built his career playing psychopaths and sundry misfits.
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