Burn After Reading 
Blu-ray Drama
Written by Noah Fleming   
Tuesday, 23 December 2008

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"Burn After Reading" is a typical near miss film.  It is loaded with an all-star cast and the incredible writing/directing team of the Coen brothers.  "Burn After Reading" is the Coen brothers' follow-up to their smash hit, "No Country for Old Men."  Unfortunately, it is nowhere near the caliber of that film, or even classics like "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski."

To explain the plot of the film would be a futile act.  But, essentially, it revolves around Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), and ex-CIA analyst that discovers his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair.  Then, there is Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), and her partner in crime, Chad (Brad Pitt), that discover a CD which they believe is filled with highly-classified CIA intelligence.  Ultimately they try to blackmail Cox, the owner of the material, so that Linda can get her elective surgeries.  Harry (George Clooney) also factors in as Katie's lover.  All of this is reveal in the first 25 to 30 minutes of the film.  The remaining hour and ten minutes is pure paranoia and cat-and-mouse chase games.  That's all.

The film lacks any type of draw.  The story is weak, although it can sometimes be intriguing.  The film can't make up its mind on whether it is a comedy, or drama, or mystery, or thriller, etc.  Worst of all, the star-studded actors turn out lackluster performances.  Swinton and Clooney turn out the best performances of the bunch, portraying characters that actually have some depth.  Brad Pitt plays an empty, idiotic character.  John Malkovich's Osbourne Cox is a raging character that drives the story, but lacks a certain conviction.  By far, Frances McDormand delivers the worst performance.  Her character is quite annoying.  She obviously overacts to compensate for a futile character.  As a whole, the entire ensemble does not work.  Each actor seems to be doing his/her own thing, and it does not come together in the end.

The premise of the film is not entirely undesirable.  It has some interesting twists and turns in it.  However, they are poorly developed, if developed at all.  The film also drags on.  It only runs about 90 minutes, but it feels more like 150 minutes.  After all the great films that the Coen brothers have turned out, it is easy to forgive them for this film.  However, this film is definitely not going to become an offbeat classic, unlike "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

The video is presented in a 1080p/AVC encode.  The film's image is fairly bland overall, and hardly seems to warrant high-def treatment.  However, the Blu-ray presentation does the film just fine.  The colors are slightly muted.  That matches the film-like style of the image.  The film is not overly saturated.  Fleshtones are accurate.  Black levels and shadow delineation are a bit weak.  Constantly details are lost in areas of the image that really shouldn't be so dark.  The contrast is average, but rarely overblown.  The image has a fine layer of grain.  Details and textures are average, but nothing to fawn over.  There appears to be no edge enhancement, compression or motion artifacting.  The source looks pristine enough, with no obvious scratches or dust/dirt.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and adequately recreates the film audio's sound design.  There is not much in the way of audio for this film.  It is mainly music and dialogue.  I would be hard pressed to remember any discrete effects in the surround channels.  The dialogue is always clear and audible.  The music score is sometimes a bit overpowering.  It bleeds into the surrounds to provide a little enveloping.  The LFE channel is not very present, other than during some of the music sequences.  However, when present the bass is muddy.  There is really not much dynamic range to the film, although there appears to be room for it.  A fair audio track for is required.

There is less than a handful of bonus material present for this film.  It doesn't seem to have been given any special treatment.  This is fairly typical of Coen brothers' releases.  In total there is about 20 minutes of extra footage.  First, the featurette, "Finding the Burn" contains brief cast and crew interviews.  "DC Insiders Run Amuck" is the longest bonus feature which takes look at the individuals cast members.  Lastly, "Welcome Back, George" is a super-short piece examining the relationship between the Coen brothers and Clooney.  There is also BD-Live My Scenes sharing.  As usual with Universal Blu-rays, this disc is also equipped with a standard U-Control section.

Sadly, "Burn After Reading" falls short of being a major film as well as being a cult classic.  I give props to the Coen brothers for their attempt, but that's as far as it goes.  The video and audio quality is average, but not impressive.  Give this one a rent first.
Studio Universal Studios Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating R
Starring George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons
Director Joel and Ethan Coen
Film Release Year 2008
Release Year 2008
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 1080i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Running Time 1 hr. 36 mins.
Sound Formats English DTS-HD Master 5.1 • French DTS 5.1
Subtitles English SDH • French • Spanish
Special Features "Find the Burn"; "DC Insiders Run Amuck"; "Welcome Back, George"; BD-Live My Scenes Sharing; U-Control
Forum Link http://www.avrevforum.com
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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