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Burn After Watching: Satire too over the top

Burn After Reading, the latest offering from the Coen Brothers, is a dark, satirical comedy which lays out the intertwined stories of several seemingly ordinary people in and around Washington, D.C. The film seems to specifically focus on how everyone has an inflated sense of self-importance.

The story begins with CIA analyst, Oswald Cox (John Malkovich), quitting his job after being demoted for his drinking problem. Depressed, he decides to write a memoir.

However, his wife (Tilda Swinton), who is having an affair with treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) and secretly planning to divorce Cox, copies many important files from his computer, including the memoir, onto a CD for her attorney.

The disc is accidentally left at a local gym where it is discovered by two trainers, the image-obsessed Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), and clueless Chad Feldhiemer (Brad Pitt).

Linda, who is in desperate need of money for some “essential” plastic surgery, convinces Chad to help her blackmail Cox. Soon afterwards, Linda meets Harry through an online dating service, and the two start a relationship. Events quickly spiral out of control, leading to the films deadly yet puzzling conclusion.

Unfortunately, the film proved to be a disappointment for several reasons. While the general concept of the film is brilliant, it is poorly executed. The plot quickly becomes so convoluted and ridiculous that it loses its believability. Part of the problem is that the film takes itself too seriously, at times feeling like a B-grade spy thriller rather than a satire. At the same time, the characters often find themselves in increasingly absurd situations that are so unbelievable that the audience can only roll their eyes.

The characters in the film are another disappointment. While all of the actors did an excellent job in their respective roles, especially Clooney, Pitt and Malkovich, the characters are all too over the top.

It is true that characters in a satire are supposed to be warped versions of general stereotypes, but the film stretches these characters too far, taking them past the point of believable and into the realm of obvious fantasy.

Probably the film’s biggest flaw is that it just is not all that funny. While there are a few laugh-out-loud moments – Brad Pitt on the treadmill probably being the biggest – most of the other laughs, groans and eye-rolls come from the sheer absurdity and ridiculousness of the plot rather than attempts at humor by the film; most of the intended jokes fall flat.

Lastly, there is no real sense of resolution or conclusion to the film. There isn’t really a climax: the film just seems to end. Worse, there is no real resolution to the plot, with the surviving characters learning to make sure it never happens again, if they can ever figure out what exactly happened in the first place.

In conclusion, only go out and see the film if you are a die-hard fan of Brad Pitt or George Clooney. If you absolutely must see it and are not a fan of either actor, wait until it comes out on DVD and you have a coupon for a free rental. Otherwise avoid the film all together.

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