Burn After Reading

Release Date: September 12, 2008

Movie of the Day for Thursday, August 14, 2008
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 Hmm, dailies from the movie must be pretty good.

On the Big Board
Position Staff In Brief
8/21 Jason Lee A smart and clever comedy that surprises at every turn.
12/52 Sean Collier The Coens? Officially on a hot streak.
19/31 Les Winan The Coens never disappoint even if they aren't perfect. Predictably cold and unsentimental. To be clear, that's not a bad thing.
91/196 Max Braden I was really surprised at how boring this was. Maybe it needed a good score.

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Comedy has never been the Coen Brothers’ strong suit, at least not at the box office. Their dark, twisted tales of humor and violence always seem to strike a chord with a similarly dark and twisted niche audience, but that doesn't usually happen until the home market. Despite the number of nominations and awards their films earn, the Coens have yet to make a veritable blockbuster.

That trend could change when their latest comedy, Burn After Reading, expands into theaters this fall, following its debut at the Venice Film Festival. A typical Coen Brothers’ story of greed, blackmail, double-crossing and crooked characters, the film packs plenty of star power, including Coen Brothers alumni George Clooney (O Brother, Where Art Thou) and Frances McDormand (Blood Simple, Fargo), along with newcomers Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich.

With all the principal cast members either being Oscar winners or nominees, the Coens obviously know how to pick their talent. Plus, names like Clooney and Pitt can't hurt in Focus Features' mission to market the movie to a broad audience. Many will be interested to see how these two leading men hold up together in a non-Ocean’s movie.

Once again sharing the writing and directing credits, the Coens’ mischievous caper tells of a cynical ex-CIA agent (Malkovich) who has written a scathing memoir against his former employer. His soon-to-be ex-wife (Swinton), who’s shacking up with a federal marshal (Clooney), steals his only copy, but accidentally leaves it at a gym run by Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) and Linda Litzke (McDormand), who plan to blackmail the CIA vet.

The plot seems to adhere to the classic Coen Brothers’ formula of too many people getting too heavily involved in a scheme to make money. The sibling filmmakers love this theme, which finds its way into practically all their movies - comedies and dramas.

With the success of the Coens' Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men fresh on moviegoers’ minds, the brothers have their own tough act to follow. But Burn After Reading has a lot of advanced buzz, and given its relatively small $20 million budget, it should have a smooth enough run to match its cost, which would put it in line with the brothers' career average, or perhaps even a little more. Working in its favor is the high-profile cast and beginning of awards season; working against it is the fall release date and the Coens’ reputation for only doing moderate business. Burn After Reading probably won’t give them their first certified blockbuster after all, but it should earn enough so studios will continue to give them the funds to keep trying. (Matthew Huntley/BOP)

Vital statistics for Burn After Reading
Main Cast George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich
Supporting Cast Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt
Director Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Screenwriter Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Distributor Focus Features
Screen Count 2,651
Awards Awards page for Burn After Reading
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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