A review of “Burn After Reading” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

 

 

Those crazy Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) veer a hard left with a humorous and cautionary tale of lust and revenge.

          Kicking off this comic thriller is a pastiche of prickly players fully invested in their self-absorbed worlds. Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is a CIA analyst fired for a “drinking problem” at which point he comes totally unglued. His bitchy physician wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) feels no pain (and little sympathy) as she’s banging conflicted U.S. Federal Marshal Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) on the side.

          Stage right is Hardbodies Gym, where office manager Linda Litzke (Coen regular Frances McDormand) is fretting over her insurance company’s unwillingness to cough up the dough for elective cosmetic surgery. Hyperactive trainer Chad Feldheimer (a comically-timed Brad Pitt) is her classic shoulder to cry on, far more brawn than brain.

          Opportunity knocks when a Hardbodies employee finds a CD of Osborne’s scathing tell-all memoirs on the gym’s floor. Believing they’ve struck gold Chad and Linda attempt to blackmail him; offering to trade the CD for $50K and blissful dreams of lifts and liposuctions.

          It all goes to hell in a hand-basket when Harry, a serial online dater, hooks up with Linda and six degrees of separation gets far too close for comfort.

          As per usual the Coens know dark comedy inside and out, turning good people and questionable deeds into a rhythm-less circle jerk of swelling suspicion and tantalizing twists of fate.

          Richard Jenkins is an understated delight as a Hardbodies manager with a secret yen for Linda who will do just about anything to win her favor. Malkovich is dissonant and intense, perfectly suited to a scorned CIA spook. Film has the smarts to put a wrap on its genre-spoofing narrative before it starts leaking virtue – whew.