The Coen Brothers Do Seinfeld

In Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers set about to show the audience how they are wasting the audience’s time and money. Whether they are on the right or wrong side of the ethical fence with regard to this action, given the fragile state of the economy, is dependent on the point of view of the person shelling out the bucks to see their new film. Mid way through the movie, I was still saying “Huh?’ and wrinkling my brow. The absurdity of the film dawned on me about ¾ of the way through, and then by the conclusion I was chuckling at the joke the Coen Brothers had played.

A brief synopsis (like it matters, but more on that in a moment): A mid-level CIA agent, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is downsized to a less than glorious new position. His wife, played by Tilda Swinton, is having an affair with another man, played by George Clooney. In an attempt to get the most out of a planned divorce, the CIA agent’s wife downloads some of her husband’s files to a CD. This is found by Chad, a personal trainer at Hardbodies, a local fitness gym. He believes he can blackmail Cox for the information on the disk, which in reality are simply Osborne’s memoirs of working in the CIA. He lures Frances McDormand’s character, Linda, into his nit-wit scheme, and then…

Well, ultimately it doesn’t really matter. At all. The Coen Brothers merely play on the audience’s expectations of subterfuge and government conspiracy, from the opening Google Earth satellite pan down to earth with Tom Clancy beeping subtitles to the “Top Secret” file on the CIA director’s desk. But ultimately, this film is about…nothing. It’s the Coen Brothers doing Seinfeld, and it actually works. Every character in this film narcissistically goes after what they want, and in the end nearly all are dead, usually in the most stupid, pointless ways imaginable. To the CIA Director (played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons), it’s just a matter of “clearing things up,” to avoid the least mess as possible- because that’s what the audience wants, right? Resolution? The Coen Brothers challenges the audience to see that there is no real comforting “resolution,” given the absurdity of most human behavior.

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3 thoughts on “The Coen Brothers Do Seinfeld

  1. Thanks for this. I knew nothing of this film (and in fact don’t get to see many films at the moment). But I once knew Tilda and the idea of her playing Clooney’s lover tickled me – and probably her 🙂

  2. I think she had a blast doing the movie. It’s also great to see a number of veteran actors from other Coen Brother movies back in the saddle- namely Clooney and Frances McDormand

  3. This movie was HORRIBLE to attend on a second date with someone.

    I left the movie theatre with my date and feeling both the night and the date as…anti-climactic to say the least.

    Argh,
    what a waste…

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