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Burn after Reading - Wer verbrennt sich hier die Finger? (Burn After Reading)
U.S.A./U.K./France 2008

Opening 2 Oct 2008

Directed by: Ethan Coen
Writing credits: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Principal actors: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt

Joel and Ethan Coen have created a silly, loveable, and fun Muppet movie of morons. Thirty minutes into the movie I thought, “Where is this going?” Actually: nowhere, but that makes no difference. The title is also irrelevant; it could just as well be Read after, before or during Burning or vice versa. The excellent actors obviously delighted in spoofing stereotypes such as the desperate, ditzy single woman (Frances McDormand); the unfaithful, bearded, former bodyguard (George Clooney); the 40-going-on-12-year-old, gum-chewing swinger (Brad Pitt); the ambitious professional female (Tilda Swinton) and the failed CIA alcoholic (John Malkovich).

On the day he is fired from the CIA in Washington D.C., Osborne Ozzie Cox (Malkovich) sets the ball rolling for these different types to interact. His wife Katie (Swinton) ignores his problem; after all he forgot to pick up the cheese for the dinner party. One guest is her lover Harry Pfarrer (Clooney), who arrives with his wife. In preparation for a divorce Katie downloads financial and other information about her husband; the disc falls into the hands of Linda Litzke (McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) who work at Hardbodies fitness studio. They attempt blackmail and the sale of “secret” information to the Russians. The film continues with slapstick and black humor and ends 95 minutes later with at least one of the above dead.

I do not doubt that the Coen brothers could have spun this thread for another five days and I would still be laughing. (Just re-visualizing a meeting of Princeton alumni sets me off again.) Perhaps film festival movies have made me rather worn and ragged so that I am especially susceptible to this film which is so professionally made, so well edited and photographed, has such a fine soundtrack, and is so innocent, that it is a relief to let go and just relax. It would be interesting to see the same film with roles reversed, although supposedly the Coens wrote each role specifically for certain actors. They said, “It's a political film without politicians.” Although everyone is excellent, I would give my vote to Tilda Swinton, who deserves a real Oscar soon, and not just for supporting actress (Michael Clayton). Please try to see the film in English. (Becky Tan)

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