Saturday, December 19, 2009

Burn After Reading

Day 353 - 12/19/09 - Movie #353

BEFORE: Another one I've been looking forward to watching, being a big fan of other Coen Brothers movies like "Raising Arizona" and "Fargo".

THE PLOT: A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.

AFTER: I don't know, this is a tough one for me to judge, for some reason. It's definitely got echoes of those other Coen Bros. movies - with a small crime that spirals out of control, like ripples in a pond. Here there are a lot of minor sins, like marital infidelities, that seem to cause the maximum amount of confusion - everyone's cheating on everyone else at the same time.

John Malkovich is the standout as Osbourne Cox, the CIA agent who's got a crumbling marriage and a drinking problem - some of the best scenes are just Malkovich surprised by the idiocy of the other characters. It's no small feat that Malkovich can check his bank balance on the phone, and do it in a dramatic fashion. The mark of a true professional - drama is where you find it, kids.

Tilda Swinton plays his wife, who's thinking of divorcing him, so she makes a copy of their financial records, and the disk accidentally contains a draft of her husband's memoirs - when the disk gets lost, it's found by some gym employees, Linda and Chad. Linda (Frances McDormand) is an insecure serial internet-dater who wants to get money for some plastic surgery procedures, and Chad (Brad Pitt) is a muscle-headed gym trainer who sees spy conspiracies everywhere. The two set off on a course of blackmail and international espionage, but of course they're horrible at it, and things spiral out of control since they're no match for Malkovich (who is?)

Everyone in this wacky movie is connected - the agent's wife is sleeping with treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who's also married, and uses internet dating sites, where he hooks up with Linda. And Richard Jenkins plays the gym manager, who worships Linda from afar, but is below her notice. Lots of coincidences abound, mistaken identities and wacky mishaps, so somehow the movie seems to be about everything and nothing at the same time.

There are lots of mysterious limos trailing everyone around, and a lot of times the movie seems to be shot from a distance, like from the point of view of a detective or an intelligence agent. And I was bothered by the fact that a lot of the action happens off-screen, as a pair of CIA men (David Rasche and J.K. Simmons) try to piece the whole mess together.

It's an entertaining-enough farce, which for me only edged into brilliance when Malkovich lost his cool...

RATING: 6 out of 10 lime wedges

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