An underrated Coen gem more relevant now than ever - 10 years of Burn After Reading
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Whilst a critical success upon its release, Burn After Reading was never warmly received by general audiences and, as such, has slipped through the cracks of the Coen’s vast filmography. Viewing it ten years later though, the film has in fact proven to be more relevant as time has gone on and is arguably one of the renowned directors’ most accomplished pieces. The film tells a complicated tale following many characters, all of whom act with selfish motives but have no full understanding of what exactly it is they’re caught up in. The general plot follows Hardbodies Gym employees Lynda Litzke, played here by recent Oscar winner Frances McDormand, and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) as they try to capitalise on finding what they believe to be CIA secrets belonging to former agency analyst, and part-time alcoholic, Osborne Cox. Whilst this is the through-line of the film, the plot also follows the charming yet needy, sex-addict Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), as he deals with his crumbling marriage; Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), Osbourne’s cold and calculating wife who is sleeping with Harry; and hopeless romantic Ted (Richard Jenkins), who is love-stricken for fellow gym employee Lynda. Though it may seem overwhelming, the way these plot threads all string together is nothing short of genius, leading to a wholly satisfying conclusion that stays consistent with the movies’ themes. The film had the seemingly impossible task of following up from the Coen’s Oscar-winning masterpiece No Country for Old Men, a dark and gritty film that thrived on violence and tension. Audiences were hence left disappointed when the Coens’ next film took on a completely different tone and had a far less clear-cut message. Burn After Reading however, is in fact more in line with the directors’ previous works, with its quirky characters and dialogue as well as the dark comedic tone making it comparable to the likes of The Big Lebowski and Fargo. In a way, this film is likely the most ‘Coen-esque’. There are memorable and unique characters, all brought together through coincidence and misinformation into extreme circumstances that spiral out of control. The film is made up of a truly all-star cast, with modern giants such as J.K. Simmons and Frances McDormand being accompanied by the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton. Malkovich is a scene stealer from the off with his foul-mouthed character, Cox, bringing many of the film’s laughs despite his despicable nature.
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