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365, Movies

Day 103: Burn After Reading

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What appears to be highly sensitive CIA data accidentally lost in a gym starts a series of bizarre events that will descend into even more bizarre results.
Six people are brought together in such weird circumstances that it has to be seen to be believed. And even then…
Chad(Brad Pitt) finds a CD that appears to contain CIA data at his work place Hard Bodies and shows the data to his boss Bob (Richard Jenkins) and colleague Linda (Frances McDormand). Linda is incredibly unhappy with her appearance and sees the data as an opportunity to get a reward from the owner for its safe return. She intends to spend the money on vast amounts of plastic surgery. Bob elects not to get involved but Chad agrees to help.
Contacting the owner of the data, Cox (John Malkovich), does not go well for the pair and they decide to look for reward elsewhere with their “sensitive” data.
In actuality, the data was the property of a legal secretary acting for Cox’s wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton), who is looking for financial evidence as part of her divorce plans.
Katie in turn is having an affair with Harry (George Clooney), himself married. Harry though appears to be a serial fornicator as he is signed up to an Internet dating agency, eventually introducing him to Linda.
The circle completeabsolute and total chaos then ensues.


Being the Coen brothers has advantages. Firstly – you aren’t going to reject your own script at first glance no matter how bizarre the plot, script of ending of the piece. Secondly – you get to inject your own money producing the movie, bringing in friends as you go. Thirdly – you get to direct your baby into reality.
There is no doubt in my mind that if an independent scriptwriter had produced and tried to sell this piece it would have died before even getting a second reading. The course and characters are so outlandish, yet subtly identifiable, it simply should not work.
As can be seen though, this is a huge and popular cast. All have had success and here they are allowed and encouraged in such a way to draw the audience into each characters personal world.
Two of the performances stand out though. Brad Pitt‘s hopelessly dim-witted Chad is a delight. It is rare to see an A list star at the very top of the Hollywood machine take such a deprecating role. But the top accolades have to go once more to John Malkovich. His highly intelligent yet angry, uncomprehending Cox is terrifying to behold.
Then there are two cameos (repeated intermittently through the movie) that leave a signature on the movie moving it from good to excellent. JK Simpson and David Rasche play Cox’s seniors in the CIA. Watching the intelligence agency struggle with the event surrounding their data analyst is hysterical. They quite rightly get the final word.
Personally, I think the Coen Brothers‘ greatest piece to date.


Things to look out for: John Malkovich’s anger at everyone, “What the f***?“, Brad Pitt’s witless performance, “Oh my God!“, Frances McDormand’s desperation to improve herself, Tilda Swinton’s cold heartless character, loads of bizarre situations and consequences, the contents of the CD, Harry’s present for his wife, the bemused interpretings of the CIA
Released: 2008
Certificate: 15
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins
Rating: highly entertaining, bizarre comedy, very highly recommended
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About harlekwinblog

"Thoughts of an idle mind." Information Security professional.

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