Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Focus Features
Blu-ray: UNiversal Studios Home Entertainment
Runtime: 96 minu
Size: 50 GB
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: December 23, 2008
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Video codec: VC-1
English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; French DTS 5.1
English SDH, Spanish & French
• Finding the Burn: The Making of Burn After Reading (5:31)
• DC Insiders Run Amuck (12:24)
• Welcome Back, George (2:51)
The Coens maneuver about as far as possible from No Country
for Old Men In this wild and crazy satire of the espionage
business, married to equally wild and crazy attempts to find
romance and a new body image to go with it: A kind of
Ruthless People meets Blood Simple.
John Malkovich plays Osborne Cox, who is summarily relieved
of his position in at the CIA – not his job, just his
position. Apparently his bosses and co-workers simply find
him intolerable, as do we. Cox is so self-righteous and cox-sure
of himself that he quits altogether, only to find that he is
fit only to write his memoirs, and he's not much good at
that, we wager. His doctor wife (Tilda Swinton) hates him
and has been having an affair with philandering federal
marshall, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) – a nut case with a
Meanwhile, back at the Hardbodies Fitness Center, Linda
Litzke (veteran Coen artiste, Frances McDormand) declares
she has gone about as far as she can go with her body and
implores her insurance company to authorize elective plastic
surgery. They're not buying it. When she comes across a CD
of Cox's memoirs and household budget that has been
accidentally dropped in the locker room, she and best friend
Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) attempt to sell it back to Cox.
Failing that: to the Russian Embassy.
Like Blood Simple there are no best laid plans, merely
grossly conceived intentions that result in typically dark
Coen mayhem: thus the title.
Brad Pitt is the real gem in this cast of wonders, a
fascinating concoction of charm and bungle. His attempts at
master spy and extortionist are like the Ruthless Bill
Pullman and Judge Reinhold characters combined. As Pitt
repeats "Osborne Cox" repeatedly in his telephone
interrogation of John Malkovich – an actor I generally find
tiresome, especially when he swears – I imagine the joy I
will have in reading Cox's obituary. I have to admit:
Malkovich's devolving burn is priceless.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence
compared to other Blu-rays on a ten-point scale. The second
number places this image along the full range of DVD and
The high contrast, a bit grainy and somewhat grainy
desaturated image can be assumed to be the intended artistic
vision of its photographer, Emmanuel Lubezki (the genius who
shot Children of Men). Still, it's not the kind of image you
want to show off your HD system with, despite its sharpness.
Grayscale tends to shorten at the black end. Bit rates are
high: in the mid-30s.
Audio & Music:
The movie is dialogue driven, so it's nice that Universal
offers an uncompressed audio mix to help us grasp the
meanderings and inflections of the text. Foley effects are
wonderfully distributed and executed with realism. I like
the music - it's dynamic, immersive and has lots of punch -
though it confuses me a little as to what aspect of the
drama it intends to support.
It's Universal's standard issue menu, but without U-Control.
What could be easier?
Slim pickens here. No audio commentary. The two short and
casual featurettes interview actors, directors and crew as
they discuss the characters and how they fit into a story
about spies, fitness, romance and their wardrobes. The Coens
admit to creating a movie around the actors they wanted to
use, rather than vice-versa. Hmmm.
The movie twitches with Coen delights. It doesn't quite hold
together, which is, in part, the point, and it ends too
abruptly, which may not be; but it is enormous fun in the
details and characterizations. The Blu-ray looks good, if
not demonstrable, and sounds great.
December 20th, 2008