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Burn After Reading DVD

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After the dark brilliance of No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading may seem like a trifle, but few filmmakers elevate the trivial to art quite like Joel and Ethan Coen. Inspired by Stansfield Turner's Burn Before Reading, the comically convoluted plot clicks into gear when the CIA gives analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) the boot. Little does Cox know his wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton, riffing on her Michael Clayton character), is seeing married federal marshal Harry (George Clooney, Swinton's Clayton co-star, playing off his Syriana role). To get back at the Agency, Cox works on his memoirs. Through a twist of fate, fitness club workers Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt in a pompadour that recalls Johnny Suede) find the disc and try to wrangle a "Samaratin tax" out of the surly alcoholic. An avid Internet dater, Linda plans to use the money for plastic surgery, oblivious that her manager, Ted (The Visitor's Richard Jenkins), likes her just the way she is. Though it sounds like a Beltway remake of The Big Lebowski, the Coen entry it most closely resembles, this time the brothers concentrate their energies on the myriad insecurities endemic to the mid-life crisis--with the exception of Chad, who's too dense to share such concerns, leading to the funniest performance of Pitt's career. If Lebowski represented the Coen's unique approach to film noir, Burn sees them putting their irresistibly absurdist stamp on paranoid thrillers from Enemy of the State to The Bourne Identity. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney and Brad Pitt star in this Coen brothers crime comedy concerning the whereabouts of a sensitive disc containing the incriminating memoirs of alcoholic CIA agent Osbourne Cox (Malkovich). Cox's wife, Katie (Swinton), who is having an affair with married federal marshall, Harry Pfarrer (Clooney), is making plans to leave her husband, and is advised by her divorce lawyer to copy his personal files onto a disc. The disc finds its way via a circuitous route to the Hardbodies fitness gym, where two unscrupulous employees, Linda (McDormand) and Chad (Pitt) decide to exploit their find for all they can get. Events soon spiral out of everyone's control in a cascading series of surreal and darkly comic encounters and misunderstandings.

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