I heard a statistic a few months ago that Will Smith is the only actor left in Hollywood who can pull a crowd with the mere mention of his name. At the time it sounded like a flimsy fact, but it could explain the star studded ensemble cast of the Coen Brother’s new film Burn After Reading – Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich. (No Will in sight.)
Judging by the film’s title and poster, (above) I wouldn’t have held it against you for expecting a slick spy movie with Brad and George playing smooth heroes and John Malkovich the evil genius bad guy. But this is the Coen Brothers, so you’d be wrong. Oh so wrong.
First up, there’s Brad Pitt. As the lovable idiot Chad Feldheimer, a frosted tipped personal trainer at Hard Bodies gym, Pitt is as far from Rusty/Mr Smith as he’s ever been. Clooney worries the whole film away as a nervous ex-CIA operative slash compulsive adulterer, and John Malkovich is, yes, a genius, and yes, angry, but an honest angry genius at least.
The ladies are more true to their usual characters, with Frances McDormand playing a weird, lonely, plastic surgery-obsessed Hard Bodies employee, and Tilda Swinton the quintessential heartless ice queen. And, like most middle aged women, they both have a thing for Clooney.
Following five characters connected through sin; largely lust, greed and pride, Burn After Reading is black comedy at its best; hilarious then frightful, cute then cringe-inducing. It’s undeniably a character film, with the plot coming a distant second to the larger than life onscreen personalities, but it works because the characters are so large.
And, set in Washington, the film wouldn’t be complete without a CIA presence. And it comes, in the form of an agency-wide cameo. Surprised by everything going on in their midst, they’re the ultimate good samaritan janitors, cleaning up everyone’s messes without even being asked.
Burn After Reading opens in NZ cinemas this Thursday.
See it, then discuss below!