Burn After Reading (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I’ve grown to become a big fan of the Coen Brothers, though at one time they’re movies annoyed me to no end. Now that they have the moniker of “Oscar Winners” to their credit, it might be a little easier for me to finally accept them. Oh, who am I kidding; maybe I’ve liked them all along. Admittedly, their movies are hit and miss with audiences. Some of their best like “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski” are more cult classics while more mainstream movies like “No Country for Old Men” or “Fargo” are clearly food for critics. No matter how you slice it they are extremely talented and odds are they’ve directed a movie that you’re pretty fond of. All Coen talk aside, “Burn After Reading” reunites George Clooney with the Coen’s (he had previously worked with them in “Intolerable Cruelty” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and Clooney with “Ocean’s” star Brad Pitt. There are a few new faces as well, recent Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (who worked with Clooney in “Michael Clayton”) and John Malkovich. So how can this ensemble cast pull off a great movie. Need you ask?

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) has just been demoted from his CIA position obstensively because of a drinking problem. Rather than take a demotion, Cox quits and decides to write a book containing the memoirs of his life. His wife (Tilda Swinton) is none too happy with him and decides to copy the contents of his computer to a CD. And as fate would have it the CD falls into the hands of hapless physical fitness freak Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). Chad, along with co-worker Linda (Frances McDormand) devise a scheme to sell the CD back to Cox as they believe it to contain valuable information. In a loosely-related story, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), an employee of the U.S. Treasury, is having an affair with Osbourne’s wife and has had ties with Linda as well. There’s a little inside joke involving physical fitness after Harry’s “escapades”, but I’ll let you see that for yourself. Will Chad and Linda be able to sell the disc for large amounts of money or will they fall flat and continue their pitiful existences?

“Burn After Reading” is all about having fun. As the Coen’s describe it, the movie is about “sex and physical fitness” and the characters are so unmistakably stupid, it’s funny to see them in action. Brad Pitt may get all the accolades for his hyped up version of Chad, but in my opinion George Clooney is just as good and the always remarkable Frances McDormand hangs in there with the both of them. While not as dark as “Fargo”, but not as light as “Raising Arizona”, “Burn After Reading” is more of a black comedy that takes place right in the nation’s capitol. Great performances by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand make this a must for all Coen fans and for the uninitiated, this is as good a place to start as any.

Video: How does it look?

“Burn After Reading” is shown in a 1.85:1 VC-1 HD transfer that, at points, looks great and at others looks fairly disappointing. The main drawback to the presentation is the grain in most of the scenes. I’m sure this was intentional, but some of the outdoor scenes look amazing and we can really see the 3-D effect that the Blu-ray was supposed to produce. These grainy scenes don’t really detract from the movie, per se but for a new movie we’d expect a bit more. Universal is producing some top quality transfers lately, though this just isn’t one of them.

Audio: How does it sound?

For some reason DTS HD-Master Audio and the Coen brothers just don’t seem to go hand in hand for me, but that’s just me. Universal’s uncompressed mix is good, though not great. Some of the sequences have some great examples of surround sound, namely the opening and closing credits though the majority of the film is dialogue driven (driven by the “F” word if I do say so myself). There are a few car crashes and even a couple of gun shots that really sound great, though the rest of the track is limited to the front channels. Again, a good effort but I think the movie wasn’t really made with sound in mind.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of extras here. Basically we have three featurettes with an interview with George Clooney, a look at how the script was conceived and the replication of Washington D.C. The disc is also BD-Live enabled.

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