With Burn After Reading, it seems the Coen brothers are out to woo a different audience than the one they impressed with No Country For Old Men. There is less violence, less darkness, at least literally, and there is humour?but that doesn?t mean the film is any simpler to grasp than their last Academy Award winner.
The multi-starrer Burn After Reading is the story of a group of people whose lives get interconnected because of one lost disc of CIA data gathered from an expelled officer?s personal computer. The data, stolen by the agent?s wife (Tilda Swinton) falls into the hands of two desperate gym instructors (Brad Pitt and Fraces McDormand) who try their level best to blackmail the agent (John Malkovich) and make some money in the process. That really is all one can say about the film without giving it away.
The Coen brothers do the film some injustice by saying its central theme is idiocy. While Brad Pitt carries off the role of the decidedly unintelligent Chad with flair ? as the Coens had predicted ? it would be reductive to call any of the other characters idiotic. Their desires appear silly and may be they are meant to, but that is where the dark side of the film?s apparent comic tone surfaces. Their lives are unimpressive, their desires are petty and yet they take themselves very seriously, and in the process look ridiculous.
The unpredictability of the film?s plot relates, at another level, to that of life itself. The entire attempt is at making an oblique comment at the ?story? that becomes central to films. The idea of causality, reason and development till a point of climax is silently critiqued. That is not to say it is one of those films where you are left wondering about what you saw. To create a small world the Coens have created a whole gamut of characters ? a doctor, a lawyer, an analyst, a treasury agent, a writer, gym instructors, a former priest, and a whole lot of spies. Their fields or personalities have nothing in common, yet their lives are intertwined.?
The actors ? George Clooney, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand ? have all done a wonderful job of portraying little lives that occupy this film. Emmanuel Lubezki?s cinematography captures the different relationships with the ease of a master. Once again, the Coen brothers manage to paint a picture of a world that really isn?t that easy to understand in spite of all the science and technology we can muster.
A word of warning for those who want a bit of light-hearted fun. The film doesn?t really attempt closure and therefore pushes you to think. If that is not up your alley, don?t waste an hour and a half of your life. However, if you don?t mind that bit of mental and emotional exercise, Burn After Reading is bound to impress you.