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Burn After Reading(2008)
An ousted CIA official's memoir accidentally falls into the hands of two unwise gym employees intent on exploiting their find.
For more about Burn After Reading and the Burn After Reading Blu-ray release, see Burn After Reading Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on December 13, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Richard Jenkins
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
» See full cast & crew
Burn After Reading Blu-ray Review
Representing a "return to form" for the Coen brothers, their most recent film is more than great entertainment and solid PQ and AQ.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, December 13, 2008
Throughout the '90s, Joel and Ethan Coen churned out riveting, unpredictable films that defied categorization, culminating in the musical-comedy-odyssey O Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000. After that, the quality and quantity of their output dropped off until the critically acclaimed masterpiece, No Country for Old Men, last year, followed by Burn After Reading this year. While the former was the Coens' most serious work to date, the latter harkened back to the offbeat humor and trademark quirkiness of their '90s gems in a way that was fresh and deceptively frivolous. With Brad Pitt, George Clooney and John Malkovich, Burn After Reading certainly pulls together the heaviest star-studded cast ever assembled by the Coen brothers, who previously tended to work with a troupe of immensely talented lesser knowns, like Steve Buscemi and John Turturro. It remains to be seen if the film will achieve the recognition or cult following of the duo's most beloved dark comedies like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but it certainly should. Best of all, for HT fanatics and audiophiles, the DTS-HD Master Audio track of Burn After Reading features reference-quality content that is demo-worthy in a couple of scenes. The video is no slouch either, although it's not as impressive as the Coen brothers' work with cinematographer Roger Deakins. It is to Universal's credit that the studio made it a priority to quickly release on BD the latest title from arguably the most talented filmmakers working today.
At its essence, Burn After Reading is an exploration of greed, selfishness and alienation. With a spotlight on failing marriages, "me-first" protagonists and meaningless encounters, the film delves into the ludicrous ways people forge or fold relationships in today's world of demanding work schedules, cyberspace, gyms and self-improvement. Big deal, right? Many films focus on those issues. But what makes Burn After Reading unique and brilliant is the way it pushes mundane domestic issues toward the realm of CIA files, covert operatives and unforeseeable violence--all with the Coen brothers' trademark comedic quirks. To weave the plot, the Coens avoid a central character, and drive the pace of the narrative through several key figures: Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and to a lesser extent Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt).
After a dramatic camera shot descending from space into CIA headquarters, the film opens with Osbourne, a mid-tier analyst, stepping into his manager's office. He is being moved off an important case because he has a drinking problem. Ensuring his termination, Osbourne reacts with rage that he sustains throughout the film. He then goes home and fixes a drink. Osbourne gets an earful when he tells his bossy wife, Katie, that he is fired. We soon learn she is sleeping with Harry, and we soon learn that he loves his wife but will sleep with almost anyone he meets on a dating website. Meanwhile, Litzke is dating, too, but is obsessed with the prospect of plastic surgery, which she sees as the key to meeting a quality man and ultimate happiness. Litzke and her sidekick Feldheimer come into possession of a mysterious CD documenting intelligence findings, which had been left at their place of employment, Hardbodies. Katie's divorce lawyer had asked her to copy files from Osbourne's computer, and the lawyer's employee lost the CD at the gym. The rest of the film goes in unforeseeable directions. What a complex web the Coens weave.
While no character is totally sympathetic, Osbourne is probably the easiest to identify with. Though his rage can be a turnoff, it's easy to understand. He has been called into his boss' office and faced challenges with his cold wife as well as unfair demands from others in the film. But even if the audience can relate to Osbourne, characters are too quirky and unsympathetic overall, so Burn After Reading must survive more on the narrative flow and bizarre humor of the Coen script than on the audience finding common ground with any protagonist. Yes, two of the most charismatic actors ever to appear on screen have major roles in the film, but the Coen brothers make them into very odd creatures. Feldheimer is especially slow. Litzke is not much brighter. The actors show remarkable skill in adapting to the Coens' needs and turning in offbeat, performances. The role of Pfarrer is similar to Clooney's suave yet superficial character in O Brother, Where Art Thou, but Pitt's character is truly a first for him and he achieves a quirky yet understated demeanor that, while odd, seems to work for Feldheimer. No doubt it is not what audiences expect to see when they tune in for a Brad Pitt movie, and many of his fans will be disappointed with the film. But that's fine. No one should go into Burn After Reading expecting something ordinary.
Burn After Reading Blu-ray, Video Quality
While the 1080p 1.85:1 picture delivers oodles of definition and contrast, the color palette is a bit washed out. Skin colors are passable, but still look someone lifeless, for an overall clinical or cold feel. Rather than a problem with the transfer for Blu-ray production, this type of picture was a stylistic choice by the filmmakers. I'm not sure if it was all in film choice or camera settings, but whatever accomplished the look and feel of the picture, it isn't the result of DNR because there is subtle, small grain throughout the entire film. The appearance of the picture stays constant throughout Burn After Reading: good resolution, subdued color palett and film-like, evenly distributed grain with only the slightest hint it has been digitized.
Dark scenes show good shadow detail and inky black level. This is especially important because of the way Burn After Reading was shot. Characters and objects in the foreground tend to look highly detailed, while the back goes soft, showing blurred backgrounds with interesting gradients between areas out of focus and occasionally an impressionist halo around bright areas. The first dusk scene, showing Harry jogging and Osbourne's boat as night settles in, offers good evidence of the quality transfer. Nowhere is there a hint of artifacting, banding or strobing. The picture is rock solid. It does not look as good as No Country for Old Men, which features the brilliant camerawork of Roger Deakins, but few Blu-rays do.
Burn After Reading Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The audio engineering throughout Burn After Reading is involving, convincing and highly detailed. Transferred to a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, it is reference material all the way, with luscious, extended treble, gorgeous midrange and taut bass. It's more than up to the dialog challenge, providing good layering of voices in scenes where people are talking over each other. Even better, the modern, urban music that provides some sense of intrigue and suspense allows the brushwork on the snare to sound airy and defined as if real musician is in the room with his drum kit. When the bass kicks in, it has similar presence and palpability. A good scene to gage the realism of the audio engineering is after Harry suffers a major shock and is having trouble getting along with Katie Cox. After she confronts him about his bad attitude, he storms upstairs to grab his belongings. Listen to the sound of his footsteps as Harry leaves the room where Katie is sitting, stomps up the stairs, heads through the hallway and into the bedroom--each area having a different effect on the sound of shoes on hardwood floor--and finally back down the stairs again. The varying reverberation is paid off especially well, without a hint of digital squashing of dynamics.
Burn After Reading Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In addition to Universal's standard features for its BD releases--a BD-Live feature that allows you to assemble "favorite scenes" from the movie and share them over the Blu-ray 2.0 connection--the following special features are included. Though there is not much content, it is all in 1080i. It's nice to not have to settle for standard definition. The strongest draw of this supplementary content was to be able to see and hear Joel and Ethan Coen. They both look fine and seemed to be in good spirits for the interview.
Finding the Burn--Clocking it at only around 10 minutes, this "making of" documentary features interviews with the Coen brothers and cast, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. It is not a particularly serious, focused or in-depth discussion of the film. Joel and Ethan essentially say they had the actors in mind before they started writing the story and built it to suit their cast, which is probably a half-truth. The filmmakers are notoriously elusive when discussing the meaning or inspiration behind their work. Another highlight was to see Frances McDormand explain both the draw and revulsion of playing Linda Litzke.
DC Insiders Run Amok--Another relatively short documentary featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the same people (with the addition of the costume and makeup director). The DC insiders interviews focus on the unique look and persona of each character. Great pains are made to explain how attractive Clooney and Pitt are, and how much trouble was taken to try to make them look ordinary. Yes, I have the exact same problem when I decide to wear a pair of jeans. Seriously, I didn't get much out of this. Anyone watching the movie quickly makes the same observations that are discussed here at some length.
Welcome Back, George--The final short documentary focuses exclusively on the inclusion of George Clooney in the film. I find Clooney to have limited range that works best when he plays a charming, superficial type like the Coens have cast him in both O Brother, Where Art Though and Intolerable Cruelty. Of course, Joel and Ethan would never speak disparagingly of any actor they hire, and insist George not only has immense skill as an actor, but will soon be getting a more serious role in an upcoming film of theirs. Frankly, I would rather see a lead role in the hands of one of the Coens' other favorites, like a return to John Turturro, a multifaceted actor who brilliantly played the lead in Barton Fink.
Burn After Reading Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Burn After Reading gets an easy recommendation as a BD done right, presenting the most unique comedy this year. It delivers solid picture, reference sound and a fresh look at tears in our social fabric, with a bit of espionage thrown in for good measure. The humor is more subtle than many of the Coen brothers' films. It has a different vibe to it. But there are moments of genuine gut-busting hilarity and outright shocking violence. The key to this film may be Linda Litzke. Her commitment to happiness and self-improvement may be a bit off the scales on the neurotic meter, and she's not the brightest bulb in the box. But of all the characters, she holds the key to surviving our crazy world. Maybe it is her tenacious pursuit of happiness that is her redeeming quality. The BD certainly has its share of good qualities.
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Burn After Reading Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Burn After Reading is Blu-ray Bound - October 28, 2008
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Coen Brothers' 'Burn After Reading' to Blu-ray on December 23rd, day-and-date with the DVD release. This star studded film will be presented on a BD-25 featuring 1080p AVC video accompanied ...
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