After their Academy Award winning No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers next film had a lot of hype surrounding it. Fueling the hype was the all-star cast including George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt, a fine array of actors and actresses and a few of which were nominated or won Oscars of their own. It came as a bit of a surprise that it wasn’t quite the media darling that No Country for Old Men was, but in its own right Burn After Reading was fairly well received and it’s box office intake was nothing to snuff at either, with the film nearly doubling its budget in domestic receipts alone.
When a disc filled with some of the CIA’s most irrelevant secrets gets in the hands of two determined, but dim-witted, gym employees, the duo are intent on exploiting their find. But since blackmail is a trade better left for the experts, evens soon spiral out of everyone’s and anyone’s control, resulting in a non-stop series of hilarious encounters. From Joel and Ethan Coen, the Academy Award-winning directors of No Country for Old Men and The Big Lebowski, comes this brilliantly clever and endlessly entertaining movie that critics are calling, “smart, funny, and original” (Ben Lyons, E!).
For some reason I was under the impression this film was rather lambasted when I went into watching it, but the 70%+ rating on Rotten Tomatoes seems to say otherwise. I’m glad too, as I don’t think I’ve had so much fun watching a film in a long time. It’s one of those absolutely insane type of films that keeps you entertained simply because of how ridiculous and unique it is. There isn’t anything really quite like Burn After Reading and the zany nature of it may turn off more people than it attracts, but for me it was such a refreshing film that I was immediately drawn into it.
It struck me as the film ended that it was literally about nothing. The entirety of the film revolves around a misunderstanding and the ensuing chaos that occurs from it. If it weren’t for the government bits where a CIA Superior (played by J.K. Simmons) is informed by a CIA Officer (David Rasche), I don’t know if I would’ve been able to cobble together the insanity of the film enough to realize that what resulted from it all was just pure absurdity. I absolutely loved this and after seeing the film I knew it had a spot on my “favorite films” list.
As odd as it may sound, I honestly wasn’t giant fans of the Coen brothers films the first time I saw them. Although entertained, I found neither No Country for Old Men or The Big Lebowski terribly exciting or funny, and although I enjoyed them I didn’t see the giant fuss made about them. With Burn After Reading, it’s the complete opposite; I was completely caught up with it from the first act and still loved it once the credits rolled. For me it was a change of pace from their usual films (and I’m still not entirely sure what the ending to No Country for Old Men meant).
Also funny to me was how the star power of this film never once hurt it. When you get such a studded cast powering the film, you usually end up with a bit of a mess, but the way it kept everyone separate (Clooney and Pitt shared only one scene together…one of the most memorable of the entire film) aided in keeping it grounded. It’s also a testament to everyone involved that there isn’t a single weakly acted role in the entire film and it is perhaps one of the most pitch-perfect groupings of actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
I really can’t sing the praises of this film enough. It’s near a black comedy with the amount of betrayal and blackmail that goes on with it, but it’s not quite at the level of In Bruges (another great film, by the way). The biggest factor is the originality of it all, as there isn’t really another film out there quite like Burn After Reading. This one definitely comes Highly Recommended.
Burn After Reading arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with an insert advertising other Universal titles and the disc itself which boasts art similar to the theatrical poster. Menus are the usual Universal blade system and are simple and easy to navigate, although I swear the menus have gotten a bit of a facelift since the first wave of Universal Blu’s, but that’s to be expected I guess.
Video for this film arrives in a VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 1080p video transfer and, as expected from a modern film, it looks great. Plenty of detail is abound in every one of the sequences and there is also a healthy level of grain left on the print, so anyone worried about DNR need not with this film. Close-up shots do occasionally become a bit soft, but for the most part this is a solid transfer all around and one I doubt many will find fault with. The audio is of a similar nature, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track available to help make the film sound as crisp and clear as possible. Being mostly dialogue driven, there isn’t a whole lot of surround bits to be found here, but there are some environmental elements that make their way into the satellites. The subwoofer doesn’t get much of a workout either, except during the few more adrenaline fueled elements of the film. Also included is a French DTS 5.1 track, as well as English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
Moving onto the extras you won’t find too much here, but there are some BD-Live extras such as scene sharing, but that’s about as fancy as the extras get here. The pieces we do get are incredibly short, but still worth checking out, mostly because they’re already there so you might as well. Sadly there’s no commentary to check out, but it’s still a decent release nonetheless.
All extras here are presented in high-definition, so no worries about a round of standard definition content on this one. The first extra is Finding the Burn (5:31), a look into the making of the film. Yes, this is a five minute piece on the construction of an hour and thirty-six minute film, as shocking as that is. Next up we have DC Insiders Run Amuck (12:24) which looks into the star studded cast and the roles they play, while Welcome Back George (2:51) is a short piece on Clooney’s return for his third go-around with the Coen brothers.
As you can see the extras are slim pickings, but they’re moderately entertaining at least. I guess this isn’t’ the type of film that needs a lot of exposition about how it was created or constructed, but I would have liked a bit more discussion on how it came to be. Still, as is this is a Recommended release for a surprisingly great film. It’s certainly not as thought provoking as their last film and it also contains a great deal more laughs, so pop it in your player and settle down for an incredibly quirky film that ends up being about nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
Burn After Reading arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on December 21st.