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Burn After Reading

It’s wicked funny. It’s smart funny. Frances McDormand is in it. John Malkovich’s part was written for him, so what does that tell you? This is a gem.

Malkovich plays Ozzie Cox, who gets fired from the CIA. His boss says he has a drinking problem, but that’s not true. We see him scrupulously waiting till 5:00 to pour. I love to see a weathered, bald guy trying to explain to his father why he “quit” his job to write his memoirs. Especially when the ancient dad is incapable of speech anyway.

McDormand is Linda, who wants to have 4 different plastic surgery procedures so badly, she’ll do anything. Everybody’s having affairs with everybody else. I love the way Harry’s wife snarls, “Honey!” I love Tilda Swinton as a sadistic pediatrician.

The big surprise is how goddam funny Brad Pitt is. When he’s talking with his blackmail target, his attempt to look hard and evil is wonderful. The filmmakers say that in this work, Pitt has “embraced his inner knucklehead.”

The score is great, just on the edge of parodying the suspense genre. Carter Burwell wrote it and, as Ethan Coen told an interviewer, “his soundtrack fits the movie the characters think they are in, rather than the actual film we are watching.”

Here’s what they mean when they say, if you’re writing a screenplay, show it, don’t tell it. Linda goes to a movie with a guy who doesn’t laugh at the part she thinks is hysterical. When another guy invites her to the same movie, she pretends not to have seen it. They both laugh at the part she thinks is hysterical. It’s love! And when he takes her home and shows her his new invention, she doesn’t freak out. The invention alone is worth the price of admission.

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