Osbourne Cox, a Balkan expert, resigned from the CIA because of a drinking problem, so he begins a memoir. His wife wants a divorce and expects her lover, Harry, a philandering State Department marshal, to leave his wife. A CD-ROM falls out of a gym bag at a Georgetown fitness center. Two employees there try to turn it into cash: Linda, who wants money for cosmetic surgery, and Chad, an amiable goof. Information on the disc leads them to Osbourne who rejects their sales pitch; then they visit the Russian embassy. To sweeten the pot, they decide they need more of Osbourne's secrets. Meanwhile, Linda's boss likes her, and Harry's wife leaves for a book tour. All roads lead to Osbourne's house. Written by
I have heard it said that a good film has no bad scenes and four good ones. Well, 'Burn After Reading' has no bad scenes... and no really good ones either.
The film was consistently amusing, and kept me interested enough to want to see what happens next. The ending was not predictable, nor was it entirely unsatisfactory. Never once did the film insult my intelligence or presume upon me to care for a character without providing sufficient reason. These are all good things. But while we're talking about things this film never did, never once did this "comedy" amuse me enough to actually consider it "funny".
Now, that's not good at all.
As has been pointed out in the consistently funny comic 'Calvin and Hobbes', there is more to 'good' than the mere absence of evil. So while, unlike almost every other film I've ever seen, 'Burn After Reading' has no flaws or niggly little bits where I'm left thinking how I'd do things differently, it doesn't have any particularly good bits either, and has ultimately left me underwhelmed.
It's like we've had some sort of yin-yang trade-off, where by removing the bad we have unwittingly eliminated the good, stranding the film in limbo for eternity.
So, did 'Burn After Reading' amuse me? Yes, I was amused, though I never once laughed out loud.
Do I regret seeing it? Not really. It kept me interested for 90 minutes, which is more than I can say for a lot of other films out there.
Was it a good film? My feelings here are truly mixed, though ultimately I'd have to say "I don't think so".
I'm guessing that critics are going crazy over this film because it doesn't make any of the irritating mistakes that plague so many other films. The story is solid with no plot holes or overt clichés, the characters are well written and consistent, it never talks down to the audience, the acting is great and so is the directing.
Now, as a point of comparison I'd like you to consider 'Open Season'. This aimated film was flawed at many levels, from sluggish direction to uninspired writing and miscast actors. But in addition to this there were at least half a dozen really funny bits in it.
My point here is that while much of 'Open Season' was regrettable, at least I laughed six times. Which is six more times than I laughed during 'Burn After Reading'. As a result, I remember 'Open Season' much more fondly, despite it being the inferior film in almost every way.
In conclusion, 'Burn After Reading' just isn't exciting or funny enough to cut any sort of mustard, and so we have a film that a lot can be learned from, both in what to and not to do when making a film.
I mean, seriously. My prevailing feeling with regard to 'Burn After Reading' is one of apathy. That's never good.
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