Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand): Does he look like he would have a sense of humor?
Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt): Looks like his optometrist has a sense of humor.
"PC or Mac?"
- Russian diplomat, asking an important question about a CD containing state secrets.
At a glance: The Coen Brothers comedy of intersecting lives in Washington is polished and very well-acted, but is surprisingly meaningless, almost devoid of humor, and is populated by unappealing, stupid characters.
A state department consultant (John Malkovich) gets demoted and quits his job in anger, setting off a series of revealed affairs, divorces, espionage, and other calamities. It’s really a simple, highly meaningless plot of mistaken identity, populated with unappealing and/or stupid characters, but a combination of the Coen polished direction and a truly stellar cast make it worth watching. For me, the Coens recently have walked a fine line: they often create eccentric characters; sometimes, they still respect these characters and make them likeable (Intolerable Cruelty) but other times, they insult their characters, making them so torturously stupid as to be unappealing (O Brother Where Art Thou). This is definitely a case of the latter. And, for a comedy, I laughed hardly at all (mostly at the end, as the patter between the two CIA agents about how meaningless the story was finally got to me). This movie had a slight latter-day-Woody-Allen feel to it: professional, polished, filled with A-grade stars dieing to work with talented writer/directors with a huge reputation, yet somehow still lacking in purpose. And of course, like their previous effort (No Country For Old Men), it has a couple of moments of shocking violence that this time are supposed to be funny, but aren’t.
Movie connections: When Chad (Brad Pitt) meets with Osborne Cox, he uses the code name ‘Mr Black’. Coincidentally, Pitt starred in a movie called ‘Meet Joe Black’.
"Big stars act like darn fools in this broad black comedy, a lesser effort from the Coen Brothers."
- Kevin Lally (Film Journal International)
"Burn After Reading is a disposable lark, and it's treated by the filmmakers as such; Forget After Seeing would be a far more honest title."
- David Fear (Time Out Sydney)
"Even black comedy requires that the filmmakers love someone, and the mock cruelties in Burn After Reading come off as a case of terminal misanthropy."
- David Denby (New Yorker)
"Burn After Reading is untranscendent, a little tired, the first Coen brothers picture on autopilot. In the words of the CIA superior, it’s 'no biggie.'"
- David Edelstein (New York Magazine)