A satire seemingly aimed at the government, “Burn after Reading” brings out the dumb in Brad Pitt through an outlandish plot.
When CIA agent Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is fired and decides to write his memoirs, unsuspecting people are quickly wrapped up in a plot being covered up by the government and blown ridiculously out of proportion.
Osbourne’s wife, Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), is frustrated with his unemployment, so she begins the divorce process. She copies all of Osbourne’s financial files and gives the sensitive disk to her lawyer, which inevitably gets lost.
Two employees of Hard Bodies neighborhood gym find the disk after Cox’s lawyer drops it and they use it as blackmail. Employee Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), decides to call Cox and let him know he has the disk, hoping to reap a Good Samaritan reward.
Chad’s cohort and fellow employee Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) decides to use the blackmail to fund her much anticipated cosmetic surgery, and suddenly Chad is being used by Litzke for personal gain.
Chad is the comedic relief. Pitt’s previous roles make his character Chad’s stupidity unexpected and his role unusual. Laughs are drawn merely because of Pitt’s dancing, singing and lightheartedness concerning the situation.
Linda, self-absorbed and desperate, also gets a few laughs. She reacts so foolishly to the situations handed to her that they are worth a small giggle.
When Katie begins an affair with a Treasury agent, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), another character is added to the already complicated mix. Harry’s wife is divorcing him as well, and when her lawyers begin following him, he becomes paranoid.
Clooney, like Pitt, is normally taken seriously; his role is also the point of comedy. He is portrayed as a sex obsessed, unfaithful man. While he cheats consistently on his wife, the divorce still comes as a surprise and many in the audience scoffed at his apparent sadness at the discovery.
The characters become further intertwined, and the plot is thickened when Linda sends Chad into Osbourne’s house to retrieve more files after she brings the blackmail to the government level, hoping perhaps the Russians can provide the money she seeks.
When Chad enters the house, Harry is there waiting for Katie. Chad hides in the closet, and Harry inevitably opens the door. Since he was a Treasury agent, Harry has a gun and ends up shooting Chad.
This is where the government satire is immediately apparent. The way the CIA deals with this is a point of imminent comedy; one of the few scenes to legitimately laugh at. The CIA director rarely knows what is going on, and when he doesn’t, he decides to merely cover the incidents up.
In regard to Chad’s death, the director decides to burn the body and get rid of the evidence. Linda is stressed over losing Chad, but the movie does not focus on that, but rather the way the government handled the situation, satirizing how mistakes are easily overseen, and commended, by the government.
With few laughs sporadically placed throughout the movie and unexpected casting, “Burn After Reading” isn’t a complete disappointment. It wasn’t what was expected when first sitting down, but the plot is so ridiculous that laughter is unavoidable.
Staff writer Kelly Bleck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.