By Brady Granger
After Joel and Ethan Coen’s critically acclaimed and Academy Award-winning film No Country for Old Men, it was difficult not to feel optimistic about their next movie. Once the movie trailer for their next film debuted, the anticipation grew stronger. as Burn After Reading” seemed to resemble the direction in which the Coen brothers took their career after their first Oscar-winning film Fargo. That direction, known by title to most college students, was the cult-favorite comedy The Big Lebowski.
Signaling a return to comedic form for the Coen brothers, Burn After Reading is a darkly humorous tale involving the CIA, a fitness gym and the interactions between people in our not-so-small capital city. The film begins with the firing of longtime CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), who then begins to write his memoirs during his new found free time. By way of his disgruntled wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), the disk containing the information falls into the hands of two Hardbodies Gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). Both have ambitions of exploiting the opportunity as a moneymaking opportunity as they feel they have found genuine intelligence. What follows is a hilarious romp through the varying, but still interconnected worlds of espionage, online dating, extramarital affairs and the Russian embassy.
As one of the best comedies I have seen in a long while, the film employs the use of the varying subplots as decoys. The real story lies in the characters’ interactions in that, unbeknown to them, they are all somehow connected. Because of these connections, when one of them does something hilariously idiotic, it affects the whole group. So essentially, the plot is just a giant farce of human behavior that gathers speed and entangles more people as the movie goes on. Not only does the plot intrigue, but it also remains mysterious until the end.
Without the stellar cast of actors to bring it to life, the film would not have been nearly as good as it was. In addition to the previously mentioned cast members, George Clooney stars as Harry Pfarrer, a sex-compulsive federal marshal with a propensity for jogging. David Rasche and J. K. Simmons star as two high-ranking CIA officials who are observing all of the action unfold, and who are seen at several intervals in the film.
Southwestern seems to be the ideal audience for a film such as Burn After Reading. Not only because the dark, satirical humor fits right in with that of our everyday lives, but also because on such a small campus, we all seem to be interconnected, whether directly or by a friend of a friend. As an admirer of the Coen brothers’ work, sophomore Shaun Cooper had this to say of the film, “Everybody’s screwing everybody and in the end, the good guys lose.” Well, that “small campus, interconnectedness” thing might be more relevant now in light of Shaun’s quote. And doesn’t that last bit sound a lot like life outside the movies?
The Coen Brothers have presented a great follow-up to No Country for Old Men with Burn After Reading, and while it may not gain the cult-status of of The Big Lebowski, this film is still a worthwhile way to escape from campus and enjoy some cleverly crafted laughs at the same time.
The only detractor I note is the use of a Mexican-American character whose only line is repeated several times in thickly accented English for the sole purpose of eliciting a couple of extra laughs. But in the end, , I was able to forgive the Coen Brothers’ sole misstep and enjoy the movie for all its zany nuances.