I often approach movies with a writer’s mind. It’s difficult to turn off the part of my brain that picks apart characters and plot and sub-plot and dramatic tensions and structure. I mean, after a lifetime of training my brain to put all that together in good ways, to use language to communicate those things, well, the habit is ingrained. Instinct, almost.
“Burn After Reading” began as, I believe, and carries its strength from the fact of being, a writer’s movie. Yes, the actors in their roles are excellent, giving their characters humanity in a recognizable but quirky way. Yes, the visual design and look of the movie, and the pacing and camerawork support and enhance the story.
But without the story itself, none of that would matter.
Off-hand comments from early in the film – like George Clooney’s daffy retired Treasury agent’s remark of “Twenty years and I’ve never discharged a weapon!” or Brad Pitt’s slyly given “Appearances can be… deceptive.” – pay off later after the base had been set and the action begins to escalate.
The Coen brothers’ movies often reward repeat viewings, and “Burn After Reading” is no exception, I think. It’s in the attention to details that they shine.