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Burn After Reading

Trust the Coen brothers to come up with something fresh after their Oscar win.

A title like Burn After Reading immediately evokes some sort of spy thriller-mood, like Mission Impossible's "This message will self-destruct in five seconds." And that is indeed how this film was marketed, as a spy thriller slash comedy. But honestly, I thought the spy element was not really a major part of the narrative, but just a backdrop chosen for the characters to interact in.

The film mixes government bureaucracy, extra-marital affairs, and physical fitness into one slightly sick, slightly demented take on the nasty things that happen in the US capital. John Malkovich plays an ex-CIA agent who gets fired because of a drinking problem. Tilda Swinton plays his wife, who is actually having an affair with George Clooney. Clooney's wife, a writer of children's books, also has an affair with someone, and all this happens while Clooney screws Frances McDormand, a gym instructor who is obsessed with liposuction and who has a boss (played by Richard Jenkins) obsessed with her. And the cherry on top of this star-studded cake is none other than Brad Pitt himself, also a gym instructor, but a little on the slow side.

Everyone's acting was great, as the Coen brothers wrote all of the roles (except Tilda Swinton's) especially for the actors who played them. The cast can be considered quite a lucky bunch; how many actors actually get roles tailor-made for them from two of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood today? Yet despite all the good performances, it's still Brad Pitt who steals the show. For people who've forgotten that Brad Pitt is not just another pretty face, remember that this man is more talented than most of the Hollywood hunks today.

Burn After Reading is one of those films that is either so dark it's funny, or it's so funny it's dark. And because of this characteristic, people might miss the darkness or the humor entirely. But it is both dark and funny, and when you watch it, just remember to soak in every second of Brad Pitt's screen time, as he doesn't grace the screen as much as the others.

Rating: Four stars.


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