Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading (2008)
Universal Home Video
Cast: John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton
Extras: Featurettes

When the Coen Brothers go to work, things always turn out as a big fat mess, something so hair-raising that all you can do in the end is shake your head and wonder how this all happened. Whether it's "Fargo," "No Country For Old Me," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," "Blood Money," or now "Burn After Reading," the formula remains the same, yet the film and its story is fresh. Needless to say that I was eager to take a look at this film.

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is a CIA agent who quits his job instead of taking a demotion. Having worked countless cases over the many years of his government employment, Cox decides to write his memoirs, much to the disdain of his career-wife Katie (Tilda Swinton).

One day, Cox's notes for his book accidentally end up in the hands of two gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) – simple-minded idiots if there ever were any. Smelling espionage and top government secrets, the two decide to ask Cox for a little financial help in exchange for the safe returns of his notes. Too dumb to realize they are actually committing blackmail, the two completely screw up the meeting with Cox, who in turn spews a flurry of profanities at them, and decide to sell their "information" to the Russians.

If you've ever seen a film by the Coen Brothers, you can already see where this is going, I suppose. From a very simple premise things quickly spin out of control and events are snowballing while they become increasingly absurd and the story hurls itself towards its remarkable conclusion.

"Burn After Reading" is incredibly well-executed entertainment that weaves together a story from almost random events and encounters, showing once again how easily things can spin out of control when you put a few simpletons in the wrong place at the wrong time. The paranoia displayed by McDormand's and Pitt's characters is at the center of the film, wonderfully counter-pointed by the reaction of the CIA itself as things take turns for the worse at a rapid pace. What makes the film so effective is the fact that we can see this kind of paranoia around us every day. Not a day goes by where you don't see someone concocting a new conspiracy theory and spewing it all over the internet. Virtually any user comment you see on websites and message boards is reeking of some kind of exaggerated angst boiling just under the surface. It is ridiculous, and for the Coen Brothers it made the perfect launch platform for a great story, showing that this sort of paranoia and self-obsessed irrelevance can have quite an impact.

With a star-studded cast, it is easy to imagine that the film is sensationally acted out. From George Clooney's performance as the cockamamie cheating husband who is using Internet dating sites to get laid, all the way to Malkovich's psychotic cursing, each character comes to live with such vibrance that it is impossible not to find yourself glued to the screen. The events unfold and develop at such a speed that the viewer sometimes wants to stop the film for a moment, just to give the characters in the story time to think through the consequences of what they are about to do, while the story is filled with moments of viewer disbelief as the filmmakers tie the entire story together one strand at a time.

Arriving on Blu-Ray with a cool 1080p high definition transfer, the film looks every bit as glorious as it should. Not a single blemish mars the presentation and the level of detail is breathtaking, rendering a picture that is razor-sharp and perfectly defined. With its natural look, the movie never jumps at you with exaggerated colors, but instead creates an atmosphere that is real, as if the viewer were part of the events, merely standing by the sidelines, observing what is happening in shocked silence and incredulity.

Universal has included a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track on the release, that perfectly underscores that atmosphere of reality. Making constant use of the surround channels, the track is aggressive when needed, yet at the same time subtly understated when the moment asks for it. Without distortion or any other defect, the track is wonderfully balanced, making for a perfect presentation throughout with a wide sound field, perfectly balanced dialogue levels and a smooth score.

"Finding The Burn" is a making-of featurette on the movie that is included on the disc. It gives you a good impression of what it was like on the set of the film, as the cast and crew go about their hair-raising business.

"DC Insiders Run Amuck" is another featurette, offering some additional insight into the characters and the actors who portrayed them, talking about their motivations and shortcomings.

"Welcome Back, George," is a small tribute to George Clooney, who returned to work with the Coen Brothers for the third time on this picture. It should be noted that all bonus materials on the release are presented in high definition also.

"Burn After Reading" is another marvelous film by the Con Brothers that ignites the screen and will have you laugh out loud at its unexpected turns and character flaws, as well as the never-ending string of absurdities it develops along the way. Coming as a flawless high definition release, this film belongs into every Blu-Ray collection, in my opinion.