Review: Burn After Reading (2008)

A comedy that isn’t all that concerned with being comedy!

Written By: Ethan & Joel Coen
Directed By: Ethan & Joel Coen

Perhaps Burn After Reading isn’t a comedy, but that is a doubtful assertion. I’m sure there are others who would read Burn After Reading as having more to do with geo-politics, the asinine nature of bureaucracy, or the foolishness of love. I’m willing to concede that those elements are present in Burn After Reading, but I firmly believe that are present in service of a comedy that isn’t funny.

Okay, the last sentence is a lie, Burn After Reading is a sometimes funny movie. But, sometimes isn’t good enough for a comedy, especially one that I didn’t find to have any deeper aspirations other than to be funny. The Coen Brothers bring their eye for the absurd to Burn After Reading, but they forget to observe in a funny way. The attempts are there, the pieces are all in place, but ultimately Burn After Reading is an absurd farce that is more over the top in a ridiculous way than in a funny way.

The cast of Burn After Reading is stacked, and I can’t say that any of them do bad work. Top to bottom all the players on screen for Burn After Reading are committed to their roles. But, when the material given to them is lackluster there isn’t much they can do. John Malkovich and Brad Pitt are able to make the most of the subpar material, but even they are eventually stifled by the unfunny script. The characters behave like how Coen Brothers characters would behave, and they are observed astutely by the camera. But, their actions aren’t funny enough to sustain Burn After Reading’s run time, nor are they funny enough to make me chuckle or laugh on a consistent basis.

Carter Burwell provides another great score, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is evocative. It does, however, speak to the failings of this Coen Brothers effort that instead of laughing I was paying more attention to the technical side of things. It is almost always a given that a Coen Brothers movie will be a well produced film, sometimes their films will even reach tremendous heights. Burn After Reading is well made, but it doesn’t reach those heights and truth be told the comedy is so severely lacking that it doesn’t matter how well made the film is.

A disappointing effort from the Coen Brothers, Burn After Reading is a steak that refuses to sizzle. The observations aren’t funny, and the characters are too rote to be truly comedic. Burn After Reading looks good, sounds good, and features some nice acting, but it simply isn’t as funny of a movie as it needs to be. I don’t think I’m asking for too much when I ask for a strict comedy to be funny, but that’s not something that Burn After Reading is willing to deliver.




2 responses to “Review: Burn After Reading (2008)

  1. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I feel the movie is an attempt at a comedy that just didn’t work and I also was disappointed by it.

  2. Yep, I love the Coens and I even enjoy when they miss, but sometimes they do disappoint.

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