Burn After Reading

Near the end of the film, John Malkovich says to a character something like "You are in the league, the league of morons, the kinds I've been fighting all my life..." and he goes ahead and shoots that character. This to me is the essence of the film and in many ways of all Coen brothers films, specially their original films, the ones that are neither remakes [The Ladykillers] nor adapted [No Country...].

Burn After Reading is thematically similar to other mid-career Coen brothers films specially the likes of Raising Arizona, Intolerable Cruelty and even a bit of Fargo. It is about idiots (or morons, if you prefer) ending up in situations that are beyond their control ultimately leading to violence and destruction.

It is another appropriate film for our times. A film with no redeemable characters. No one that you could identify with, trust, or root for. Everyone being pulled into this quagmire of crass, just plain crass. While this is common in Coen brothers films but they generally have at least one or two characters that you can root for. Their characters are generally likeable even when they are terrible criminals up to no good. This time the brothers seem to have gone out of their way to create characters so absurdly unlikeable. Even the cold-blooed killer Antoine Chigurrh is a man to be feared but not disliked.

John Malkovich as the CIA agent Osbourse Cox is so foul-mouthed, so pathetic, incompetent and lost that is a miracle he is fired (sort of) and not promoted in the agency.  He delivers some of the films best lines including the 'league of morons' bit that I just loved too much.

His uptight, ill-tempered cheating wife, Tilda Swinton, is annoying and repulsive as usual. And then she is supposed to be a pediatrician of all people. I would not believe for a second that it was just a co-incidence. Frances McDermond is utterly foolish middle-aged woman who is so obsessed with finding things outside, even on the internet, that she cannot even see what's around her. She has a perfect (as in exactly like and not as in a superlative sense) teenager brain in her aging, sagging body.

George Clooney is of course the ideal (as in typical, not as in perfect) man of our times. He is a skirt-chaser with a teenage lust, a man so self-consumed, so deceitful that he cannot even imagine others deceiving him. A tiny-hearted boy who never grew up and is afraid to even acknowledge reality. A man who simply 'blows-up' when reality finally hits him somewhat. You see, a complete man of our times. I am surprised he wasn't cast as an investment banker.

Brad Pitt is a new addition to the Coen brothers camp and does a fine job of an uber-hydrated, shallow, stupid, gym-rat. He is another perfect man-child who would've been more interesting if he wasn't so real. I challenge you to go to a gym and not find a copy of this character. While most outwardly funny, Pitt is probably the weakest caricature that has been drawn in the film. It was like shooting ducks to build his character and it works but is unimpressive.

There are some awkward and non-sensical plot elements (even for Coens) that weaken an otherwise excellent film. This is again a film in relentless pursuit of entertainment. This isn't screwball, unless you want to only look at it that way. This is a comedy for our times, dark, whimsical and of men and women so foolish that they'd not just burn down their own homes by their idiocy but the entire world.